Dr Ruppanner says her study, with Professor Scott Schieman, Chair of the Department of Sociology, University of Toronto, and Melissa Milkie, Professor of Sociology, University of Toronto, had two main findings. The first is that women who view their share as unfair report the worst relationship quality.
“It’s coming through the women and not the men. Men may say it’s unfair, but it has not impacted on the men’s perception of the relationship quality,” she says.
The second main finding is around part time employment. If women are working part time, or if they would prefer to be working more hours, and the child care division is unfair, they report worse relationship quality.
“What we thought we might find was that it was about woman working full time who are doing this unequal child care burden. We thought ‘they will be so exhausted’. Time poor women who are running, running, running. But that wasn’t what we found,” Dr Ruppanner says.
“What we found was that it was mainly about women who are trapped in the role of being a part time working mother. Trapped in the gender role expectation that once you have a kid you reduce your work to part time and you take on a larger share of the child care.
“That example is very Australian. You guys work full time, you have a baby and then you drop your work hours to part time.
“It’s known as role captivity. You are captive in your roles. You have to play this role, but you don’t want to play it.”
Dr Ruppanner says it is this group of women that report worse relationship quality rather than those working full time and suggests that the norm of a good mother working part time and taking on the child care and housework can be bad for the marriage.
“This norm clearly has consequences for relationship quality,” she says.
“If you take that to the Australian sample where this is the norm, what are the implications for Australian families? Probably pretty great.
“You reduce your work time when you have the first baby and then you have two or three and have these really long stretches out of the labour market. So then it becomes even harder to come back in after five or 10 years and women try to come up with creative solutions to try to maintain their careers, but try to meet these expectations that women should be working less than full time.
“The result is a huge number of smart, highly educated women taking long gaps and probably not coming back into work. It’s not foolish to take that leap that there could be some resentment held.”
Dr Ruppanner says this shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that they don’t love their children or want to spend time with them.
“It’s not about their love for their children, but that they might have some resentment with their motherhood role experientially when they are trying to piece together different types of employment. There is no way that’s not exhausting.
“Keeping up one or more part time jobs is a very different experience and your kids are perhaps more bonded but there are consequences for the mother.
“The husbands have to make trades too, but a different trade. Men certainly don’t have it easy either.
“Men are under extreme pressure because they become the bread winner. The men are under time pressure.
“It’s not men versus women. It’s probably a situation that’s not working for anybody so why are we doing this?”