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Can We Finish the Revolution? Gender, Work-Family Ideals, and Institutional Constraint

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Principal Investigator(s):

David Pedulla
Princeton University
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Sarah Thébaud
University of California, Santa Barbara
Home page:ébaud

Sample size: 1185
Field period: 05/14/2012-08/24/2012


Over the last few decades, scholars have documented the growing discord between contemporary gender ideologies and the institutions that structure work and family life. Despite trends toward more gender egalitarian ideologies that favor women’s employment and men’s greater involvement in caregiving, work organizations are still premised on an ideal (i.e., male) worker who has few domestic responsibilities. Moreover, public policies in the United States offer only minimal leave and childcare benefits to working families. This survey experiment contributes to key theoretical debates across the social sciences about gender, work, family, and social policy in two primary ways. First, the experiment enables us to examine men’s and women’s first (“Plan A”) and second (“Plan B”) choice preferences for balancing work and family responsibilities. Second, we are able to explore how institutions and policies shape those preferences.


Our first research question asks: What are men’s and women’s first choice (“Plan A”) and second choice (“Plan B”) relationship structure preferences? We put forward three hypotheses in response to this research question:

• H1a: “Plan A” for both men and women will be an egalitarian arrangement.
• H1b: “Plan B” for men will be to be the primary breadwinner (neotraditional arrangement).
• H1c: “Plan B” for women will be self-reliance.

Our second research question asks: How do institutions that support a dual-earner, dual-caregiver model affect men’s and women’s preferences? In response to this research question, we posit:

• H2a: Institutions that support a dual-earner, dual-caregiver model will shift men’s and women’s preferences towards more egalitarian relationship structures.
• H2b: We expect that these effects will be stronger for women than they are for men.

Experimental Manipulations:

To examine the hypotheses outlined above, we implemented a between-subjects experimental design with a sample of unmarried 18 to 34 year-olds with two axes of variation in the experiment. On the first axis, to test for respondents’ “Plan A” and “Plan B” preferences for the structure of their future partnerships, we experimentally manipulated the response choices that respondents were offered when asked about the ideal structure for their future work and family life. In one experimental condition, which was designed to obtain respondents’ “Plan A” choices, respondents were offered four partnership structure choices: egalitarian, self-reliant, primary breadwinner, and primary homemaker/caregiver. In a second experimental condition, designed to assess individuals’ “Plan B” choices, we offered respondents only three options: self-reliant, breadwinner, and homemaker/caregiver (removing the egalitarian option). The second axis of variation consists of experimentally manipulating information about work-family policies. In one condition, respondents were asked to imagine that there are supportive policies are in place that ease the challenges associated with work-family balance, including flexible work options, paid family leave, and paid childcare. In another condition, the lack of supportive work-family policies in the United States was primed. Finally, we also included a control condition that did not prime anything about work-family balance or policies that address these conflicts.

Key Dependent Variables:

The key outcome variable for our experiment was the future relationship structure that respondents selected – self-reliant, primary breadwinner, primary homemaker, or egalitarian.

Summary of Findings:

The experiment provides compelling evidence that men’s and women’s “Plan B” (second choice) relationship structure preferences are highly gender-differentiated. However, when offered an egalitarian relationship option (the “Plan A” condition), a majority of men and women select that as their desired relationship structure. We also find that priming respondents with supportive work-family policies results in an even higher proportion of women stating that they would ideally prefer an egalitarian relationship than was found in the “Plan A” condition. However, we do not find an effect of the supportive work-family policies prime for male respondents’ relationship structure preferences.


Pedulla, David S., and Sarah Thébaud. 2015. "Can We Finish the Revolution? Gender, Work-Family Ideals, and Institutional Constraint." American Sociological Review 80(1): 116-139.

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