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Abstract

Researchers persistently document gender inequality in work and family roles. Yet, contemporary young adults in the United States increasingly espouse egalitarian attitudes towards careers and relationships. Further, workplace and family structures are changing, making equal work-family arrangements more possible than in the past. Do the egalitarian attitudes of young adults lead to egalitarian work-family outcomes? What processes link attitudes to outcomes? Does gender inequality in young adults’ work and family roles persist? To answer these questions, I advance a framework for gendered projectivity and linked lives in Chapter 1 and apply it to the case of heterosexual young adult couples deciding to move for job opportunities. I argue that integrating the life course concept of linked lives with a social-structural theory of gender enables a closer assessment of the couple-level processes that challenge and reproduce gender inequality in work and family. Chapter 2 uses longitudinal in-depth interviews with twenty-one graduate and professional school couples (N=40) who were negotiating relocation for career opportunities to illustrate three decision-making pathways that contest and reinforce gendered work and family roles. Chapter 3 uses data from an original survey of career and family plans among professional school students (N=174) to show that although young professionals report wanting careers, families, and egalitarian relationships in the future, women do more mental labor to balance their anticipated career and personal obligations than men do. Chapter 4 examines data from an experimental vignette embedded in the survey. I find that attitudes toward gender, work, and family shift over time to compensate for structural gender inequalities in careers and family. These studies show how individuals’ egalitarian attitudes can still lead to gendered and unequally shared work-family decision-making behaviors at the couple-level, which in turn can reproduce gender-unequal work and family outcomes.

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