Conference Paper BHPS-2009 Conference: the 2009 British Household Panel Survey Research Conference, 9-11 July 2009, Colchester, UK
Relationship quality with pre-school children: how domestic work matters to her, him, and them
Most longitudinal studies comparing couples marital satisfaction before and after becoming parents have found a decrease in both partners happiness with the relationship at least temporarily after the birth of their first child (e.g. Twenge, Campbell et al. 2003). Recent UK studies also find a reversal in the previously established stabilising effect of children (Chan and Halpin 2005). This research provides the first investigation of British couples relationship quality when they have preschool children, who seem to face an increasing risk of experiencing parental family breakdown. For most couples, the transition to parenthood results in a significant increase in time spent on domestic work especially due to time-intensive childcare. This is often accompanied by a shift towards a more traditional division of domestic work and reduction in paid work of at least one partner (usually the mother). To date, there is a lack of evidence as on how couples division of childcare may matter to relationship quality. Despite considerable literature on housework and paid work, we also know very little specifically for couples with preschool children. This paper provides new British evidence on how the satisfaction with ones partner and couples relationship stability during their first years of parenthood is associated with differences in partners division of childcare, housework and paid work. Based on data from the British Household Panel Survey (1994-2005), the empirical analysis uses ordered logistic regression and event-history analysis. The results suggest that couples who share childcare are less likely to separate than those where mothers are mainly responsible for childcare, even though sharing is generally associated with lower satisfaction with the partner for mothers and also most fathers. In contrast to previous findings for other couple populations, the division of housework seems to matter less than childcare for couples relationship quality during the early years of parenthood. The paper concludes by reflecting on possible reasons for the contradictory effects of egalitarian childcare arrangements on satisfaction and relationship stability, and for the lack of significance of housework inequality among this sample of new parents.