Gender Equality for Whom? The changing college education gradients of the division of paid work and housework among U.S. couples, 1968–2019

Léa Pessin

April 4, 2024, 14:00–15:15

Auditorium 6

Room Auditorium 6

SBS recruitment seminar


In response to women’s changing roles in labor markets, couples have adopted varied strategies to reconcile career and family needs. Yet, most studies on the gendered division of labor focus almost exclusively on changes either in work or family domain. Doing so neglects the process through which couples negotiate and contest traditional work and family responsibilities. Studies that do examine these tradeoffs have highlighted how work-family strategies range far beyond simple traditional-egalitarian dichotomies but are limited to specific points in time or population subgroups. Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and latent-class analysis, this article provides the first population-based estimates of the couple-level tradeoffs inherent in work-family strategies in the United States, documents trends in the share of couples who fall into each of these strategies, and considers social stratification by gender and college education in these trends. Specifically, I identify seven distinct work-family strategies (traditional, neotraditional, her-second-shift, egalitarian, his-second-shift, female-breadwinner, and neither-full-time couples). Egalitarian couples experienced the fastest increase in prevalence among college-educated couples, while couples that lacked two full-time earners increased among less-educated couples. Still, about a quarter of all couples adopted “her-second-shift” strategies, with no variation across time, making it the modal work-family strategy among dual-earner couples. The long-run, couple-level results support the view that the gender revolution has stalled and suggest that this stall may be caused partly by strong traditional gender preferences, while structural resources appear to facilitate gender equality among a selected few.