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Working Relationships: Communicative Patterns and Strategies Among Couples in Everyday Life

Wendy Klein


Carolina Izquierdo


Thomas Bradbury

UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives of Families
Working Paper No. 28


The growing number of dual-earner families in recent decades has led to new configurations of domestic work distribution among family members in the home. While working parent are required to spend a great deal of time and energy at their respective jobs outside the home, they must also manage parenting responsibilities and household tasks (the “second shift” according to Hochschild 1989, 1997) thus the division of labor inside the homes has become a site of contention. This paper draws from videotaped data of interviews and naturally occurring interactions in the home combining methodologies and theories from the field of anthropology and psychology to explore working couples’ perspectives on the challenges of managing household work and parenting. We examine couples’ ongoing negotiation of responsibilities and expectations, which constitutes a crucial part of working family life. While studies in the field of psychology have primarily observed communication between couples in a laboratory context and have approached the study of the division of household labor through questionnaire and interview data, this study is the first to closely examine and analyze naturally occurring interaction between couples to better understand the nature of collaboration and conflict in household activities. This study ultimately reveal the need for anthropological and psychological models to address the complexity of how spouses react to on another as they confront the everyday challenges involved in working family life.

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