The impact of child care choices on the social networks of working-class couples across the transition to parenthood
This study uses a targeted sample of 138 couples in Western Massachusetts to examine the impact of child care choices on social networks across the transition to parenthood and return to work. Dual-earner couples were interviewed separately during the third trimester of their first pregnancy and again near the child's first birthday. This study seeks to determine whether reliance on child care providers with different relationships to the couple influenced new mothers' and fathers' ability to maintain a diverse set of relationships with others. More specifically, it is hypothesized that as one draws on resources from a wider network to provide child care (expanding from the couple only to her kin, his kin, some combination of both sets of kin, and finally outward to non-kin providers), that one will have the ability to maintain a wider circle of contacts following the transition to parenthood and return to employment.
This research has uncovered significant differences in new parents' social networks. As predicted by previous research, women's networks were more strongly influenced by the transition than men's, and gender differences in network composition, especially the percentage who are coworkers, intensified. A prenatal gender difference in network size dissipated by the baby's first birthday, with men's network size decreasing more than women's to lead to similar size postnatally.
Regression results suggest that gendered patterns are influenced by choice of child care provider. Men's networks appear most restricted by a couple-only child care strategy, as men who used any other child care option reported ties with significantly more coworkers than men providing care while their partners worked. Women appear to have the least restrictions, and the most signs of diversity, when they chose a provider unrelated to either parent. At the second interview, women reporting use of a non-kin provider had significantly lower frequency of contact with others than those using their own kin, fewer partner's kin than those using their partner's kin for child care, and a higher percentage of coworkers than those using no child care.
0628: Personal relationships