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Research by Amanda Miller examines romantic relationships, career ambitions

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When couples live together, whose career gets priority and why? How do gender roles and social class inform these decisions? 

Amanda Miller
Amanda Miller

Those questions are at the heart of a research study co-authored by Amanda Miller, associate professor and chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Indianapolis. The article “His Career, Her Job, Their Future: Cohabitors’ Orientations Toward Paid Work” was recently published in Volume 40, Issue 11 of Journal of Family Issues. 

When studying gender roles and cohabitation, researchers are usually looking at income differences, the number of hours worked per person or how housework is divided among the pair, Miller explained. This study provides another way to look at gender roles: by examining how each person’s career ambitions are nurtured, which can speak to the ways that family roles are established relatively early in romantic relationships.

Miller’s research team conducted in-depth interviews with 61 couples (122 individuals), including 30 couples who were working in the service sector and 31 college-educated, middle-class couples. 

Related: Amanda Miller’s Psychology Today blog reaches 25,000 readers

College-educated, middle-class couples in the study had the most and least traditional orientations toward paid work with more freedom of choice, while service-class couples held more traditional values, but had fewer career ambitions and less autonomy due to limited social mobility.

“Being traditional is expensive,” said Miller. “If you want to be a stay-at-home parent, you need solid income from the other person.” 

Consistently, the team found it was a mismatch between what you want to be doing and what you are doing leads to dissatisfaction, individually and in relationships. 

Miller said the findings indicate “we absolutely need more adult learning programs to help people finish degrees in a timely manner and get them out of the holding pattern. If we want strong families and a strong workforce, we need to help service-class couples match their realities to their ambitions.”

Miller co-authored the book Cohabitation Nation: Gender, Class and the Remaking of Relationships and has spent 15 years studying what happens after people decide to move in together. 

Related: Amanda Miller wins prestigious 2018 Goode Book Award