Rao, A. H. (2022). Relational Work in the Family: The Gendered Microfoundation of Parents’ Economic Decisions. American Sociological Review, 87(6), 1094-1120.

How do parents decide what goods, experiences, and activities they canafford for their children during times of economic insecurity? This articledraws on 72 in-depth interviews with U.S. professional middle-class familiesin which one parent is unemployed. Extending the concept of relational work,this study illuminates how the microfoundation of economic decisions isgendered. Families where fathers are unemployed take the approach ofrelational preservation: they seek to maintain a high threshold ofexpenditures on children and view curtailing child-related spending as athreat to their class status. These families see reducing expenditures onchildren as a parental, and especially paternal, failure. Families wheremothers are unemployed take an approach of relational downscaling, loweringthe threshold for essential expenditures on children. These families arereluctant to spend less on children’s education, but they do not viewdecreasing spending on other items, such as consumer goods, as threateningtheir class status. Gendering relational work reveals how inequalities withinfamilies are reproduced through meaning-making around expenditures onchildren, and it clarifies a key source of variation in parental economicdecision-making.