Date of Award

Spring 1996

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Heather Turner


This project explores the question of women's expectations and experience across the transition to parenthood. Specifically, the source of women's unmet expectations about the genderedness of household division of labor and familywork are examined, bridging the literatures on expectation formation and information-seeking behavior.

The centerpiece of the study is a comprehensive, context-sensitive analysis of the fatherhood discourse in Parents Magazine from 1929 through 1994, which uses both quantitative and qualitative methods. Importance is placed on the fact that this is primarily a male-produced discourse that defines fatherhood for women. It was found that there are significant differences by author sex in how family life is depicted, the degree of father involvement, and the particular tasks fathers perform. Parenting tasks are deconstructed and their meanings for men and women are explored.

Results show nonlinear variation over time, and that superficial but compelling depictions of referent fathers (the articles' subjects) as compared with fathers-in-general (real men in the real world) create an impression of great decline in the genderedness of parenting roles, while gendered parenting is implicitly endorsed. Unlike most content analyses, this project recontextualizes observed themes back into the text in light of other themes, and also looks at the text within a context of contemporaneous cultural events and trends.

Mass media are conceptualized as the link between the individual and social structure, such that analyses of the popular culture disseminated by mass media suggest a method for transcending the micro/macro dichotomy within sociology. While much social science research assumes popular cultural messages have an impact on individuals, this framework provides a logical premise on which to base that conclusion--in this case, that messages about gendered parenting inform women's expectations about family life with children.

Whether this text contributes to discrepant expectations and thus to poor adjustment to parenthood, or, whether the text invites oppositional readings and is an agent of change is explored. The desirability of reducing the discrepancy between expectations and experience is questioned, and interventions are considered.