Finishing the “unfinished revolution”? College-educated mothers' resistance to intensive mothering

Lake Lui*, Adam Ka Lok Cheung

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


    Intensive mothering, a classed and gendered practice optimally performed by stay-at-home mothers, is a dominant parenting ideology, particularly in developed societies with wide disparities in wealth. Ironically, in these societies, women tend to be well educated and have good employment prospects that are expected to free them from domestic obligations. Facing competing expectations shaped by the institutions of work and the family, how do college-educated mothers consider ending or limiting their participation in the workforce or holding jobs while resolving the moral dilemma of being both a worker and a mother? We compared 33 college-educated Hong Kong mothers engaged in different professions and constructed typologies that describe how intersecting ideologies of mothering and work shape work-family arrangements. We paid special attention to mothers with strong commitment to their work, but with different ideologies about mothering. Some espouse the ideology of intensive mothering. Their belief in gender essentialism proved exhausting for them, both at work and at home. While away from home, these mothers supervised domestic helpers from their workplaces. Other women value their professions as emblematic of their identity as the perfect mother—an integrated form of mothering, thus feeling no guilt for delegating childcare responsibilities. We argue that given the entrenched gender inequality in workplaces and men's slow progress in doing their share of domestic work, the emergence of integrated mothering both rhetorically and in practice reflects women's striving to bring the “unfinished revolution” closer to the finish line.

    Original languageEnglish
    JournalGender, Work and Organization
    Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Aug 2023

    Scopus Subject Areas

    • Gender Studies
    • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management

    User-Defined Keywords

    • employment decisions
    • gender
    • parenting ideology
    • work centrality
    • working mothers


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