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Relational work in the family: the gendered microfoundation of parents' economic decisions

Rao, Aliya ORCID: 0000-0003-0674-4206 (2022) Relational work in the family: the gendered microfoundation of parents' economic decisions. American Sociological Review, 87 (6). 1094 - 1120. ISSN 0003-1224

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Identification Number: 10.1177/00031224221132295


How do parents decide what goods, experiences, and activities they can afford for their children during times of economic insecurity? This article draws on 72 in-depth interviews with U.S. professional middle-class families in which one parent is unemployed. Extending the concept of relational work, this study illuminates how the microfoundation of economic decisions is gendered. Families where fathers are unemployed take the approach of relational preservation: they seek to maintain a high threshold of expenditures on children and view curtailing child-related spending as a threat to their class status. These families see reducing expenditures on children as a parental, and especially paternal, failure. Families where mothers are unemployed take an approach of relational downscaling, lowering the threshold for essential expenditures on children. These families are reluctant to spend less on children’s education, but they do not view decreasing spending on other items, such as consumer goods, as threatening their class status. Gendering relational work reveals how inequalities within families are reproduced through meaning-making around expenditures on children, and it clarifies a key source of variation in parental economic decision-making.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2022 The Author
Divisions: Methodology
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Date Deposited: 03 Oct 2022 14:33
Last Modified: 03 Jan 2023 11:54

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