Ideologies, Nontradition al Lives
Fran cine M. Deutsch
an d Susan E. Saxon
Mount Holyoke College
This study exam ined how blue-collar cou ples who alternate work shifts and
share the care of their children reconcile their tradition al gender ideologies with
their nontradition al lives. In-depth interviews were conducted with twen ty-three
alternatin g shift couples in which the h usband was a blu e-collar worker.
Ninety-six per cen t of the participants were White, and the remain der were
Hispan ic. The results suggested that despite their nontraditional behavior, these
couples maintained tradition al gender identities by adherence to three central
beliefs about their families: 1) the father was still the breadwinner; 2) the
mother only worked in the paid labor force because of finan cial pressu res; and
3) the moth er was still the central parent. The ways in which each of these
m yths is constructed , an d the fun ction s they serve of bo th m ain tain in g
traditio n al gen der id en tity, an d of obscurin g poten tial conflicts between
husbands and wives over identity are discu ssed.
Sex Roles, Vol. 38, Nos. 5/6, 1998
1998 Plenum Pub lish ing Corporation
Although we use the te rm
throughout the paper to denote the
breadwinne r/housewife family that was ide alized in 1950
s tele vision shows like Ozzie and
Harriet, we use it only as a practical shorthand. We are mindful th at the use of the word
is fraught with proble ms. We recognize that the 1950
s de cade was hardly
traditional. It was an anomalous historical pe riod that reversed long-term tre nds of reduced
fertility and more flexible ge nder roles (Skolnick, 1991) . We also note that re al families of
s were much more diverse than those tv represe ntatio ns suggested ( Coontz, 1992) .
We re taine d the te rm
because most Americans, including the alternating shift
couple s in this study, use the te rm and understand it to me an the breadwinne r/housewife
This rese arch was supported by National Science Fou ndation Grant BSN-9108826 to Francine
M. Deutsch. Portions of this manuscript were pre sented at the Association of Wome n in
Psychology Conference , Oakland, California, March 1994.
The authors wish to th ank Susan Trum betta for contributing to th e development of the
telephone and in-depth inte rviews, Joan Dwight for transcribing the audiotape s, Jean Talbot
for coding occupational prestige , Natash a Domina for Ethnograph coding, Denise Gould for
her advice on data analysis, and Gerald A. Epstein for his he lpful comments on an earlie r
draft of the manuscript.
To whom correspondence should be addre ssed at De partmen t of Psychology and Education,
Mount Holyoke Colle ge, South Hadle y, MA 01075.