Gender Differences in Family Transitions

The sociological research project examines the attributions to mothers and fathers in different phases of family life The empirical analysis centres around three phases of transitions in family life courses which are thought to be particular prone to crisis (pregnancy and becoming parents, separation/divorce, and the departure of the (last) child), and focuses on trajectories or changes throughout family life courses: during pregnancy a more or less clear parental division of labour in terms of responsibilities for care and employment develops and appears to solidify when the child is born. Later, parental separation or the departure of the last child can represent a situation of ambiguity and uncertainty concerning the own role, relationships, and responsibilities. As a result, established, often gender-differentiated self-understandings and (care-)arrangements become the subject of reflection and renegotiation.
The aims of the project are (1) the reconstruction of changes and continuities in the family life course, especially in moments of change or crisis, (2) the investigation of attributions to parents, (3) the comparison of ‘female’ and ‘male’ parenthood, (4) the reconstruction of practices and narratives that establish, justify and legitimise gender differences in parenthood. Behind this is the overarching research interest in trajectories and path dependencies, dynamics and the effects of upheavals or crises.

The previous project ‘Prenatal Retraditionalisation?’ dealt with (self-)attributions to motherhood and fatherhood in heterosexual couples during the phase of starting a family . Analysing (online) ethnographic observation of birth preparation courses and internet forums for parents revealed gender-differentiated ascriptions already in the early phase of parenthood in which, as a rule, a maternal primary responsibility for the offspring is assumed and established. The father, however, is typically assigned a supporting role with regard to child care. These findings now need to be examined on the basis of other family transition phases.
In the project module on the topic of ‘separation’, advice literature and narrative interviews with separated parents and experts will be analysed. Additionally, we will look at ethnographies of family court proceedings and online ethnographies of separation forums on the internet. Again, we ask whether there are gender-differentiated attributions and practices in the case of parental separation and what effect these may have.
Leeres Nest
The module ‘Empty Nest’ focuses on the empirical investigation of gender-differentiated attributions and practices in connection with the departure of the (last) child. At its core, it is about family (re)configurations in the late phase of parenthood. The module combines qualitative interviews, forum analyses and the analysis of advice literature.
Our study thus examines the different forms, legitimations and consequences along the liminal phases of becoming a parent, separation and the departure of the last child.