Gender and family lives: understanding the generational shift

Friday, 24 March 2017

Parenting and family

The ways in which gender shapes modern family lives is a fascinating topic, especially as research shows that parents’ capacities to care and/or work are not biologically-determined, as assumed in previous generations.

As the majority of families in the UK are also working families, dependent on more than one income, work/life balance has become a major concern for policy makers and families themselves as they juggle work and family care.

Over the last 20 years, Oxford Brookes’ Professor of Sociology Tina Miller has researched aspects of family lives, focusing in particular on key transitions – becoming a mother and becoming a father and then following how individual behaviours and family practices unfold.

The ways in which gender shapes possibilities and practices has been a particular focus of her research, which is internationally recognised and has been used by policy makers in the UK and international institutions such as the World Health Organization.

Professor Miller is one of the recipients of the University’s Research Excellence Awards. The Awards were launched last year as part of Oxford Brookes’ commitment to supporting research-active academics and in supporting the aims of the recently revised Research and Knowledge Exchange Strategy 2016-2020.

The funding will enable Professor Miller to employ a research assistant to assist her with a new phase of qualitative longitudinal research (QLR) and cover other research costs.

Here she discusses this project.

Over the last 20 years I have produced a significant amount of research data using (QLR) interviews on transformations in family lives.

My research career began with a study on transition to first-time motherhood Making Sense of Motherhood (1998-2005), which mapped the gendered terrain of contemporary family lives and women’s experiences of first-time motherhood.

There have been significant societal, digital and political shifts since my original study and it will be fascinating to eventually compare the data from the two generations of women in the two Motherhood studies. I anticipate that the research findings will have relevance in policy, health and public spheres as well as making an academic contribution.

Professor Tina Miller, Oxford Brookes University

A major finding of this research was the gap between societal assumptions that women ‘naturally’ knew how to mother and women’s own experiences, which were that caring skills had to be learned and that this could take time. But because the mothers thought all other mothers around them were coping, they concealed how they really felt for fear they would be labelled as a ‘bad’ mother, or not a ‘real woman’. The published research went on to influence health visitor practice and be used in parenting preparation classes.

The timely Research Excellence Award will now enable me to begin a new phase of data collection, repeating my original ‘Transition to Motherhood’ study, but with a new generation of first-time mothers. Data collection will begin early in 2017 and the longitudinal data will be collected over approximately a year with each participant.

There have been significant societal, digital and political shifts since my original study and it will be fascinating to eventually compare the data from the two generations of women in the two Motherhood studies. I anticipate that the research findings will have relevance in policy, health and public spheres as well as making an academic contribution.

REA logo 2016

Keep reading the University’s news pages for further information on the recipients of the Research Excellence Awards.

On Wednesday 22 March Professor Tina Miller gave evidence in Parliament at the Women and Equalities Committee inquiry looking into how much support fathers receive at work and issues around shared parental leave.

Read more on this in The Guardian.

You can read more about Professor Miller’s past research in her Research Excellence Framework (REF) impact case study.