Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology

Population Research Discovery Seminars

Leaning In to the ‘Third Shift’: Intensive Grandmothering and Family Inequality

Jennifer Utrata, Burkhardt Fellow, Visiting Affiliate at CSDE & Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Puget Sound

03/01/2019
12:30-1:30 PM PT
121 Raitt Hall

The ideology of “intensive mothering” is the dominant standard for American mothering. But most intensive mothering research assumes a nuclear family model, marginalizing intergenerational relations in family life. However, demographic and cultural changes suggest that intergenerational relations and supports are becoming increasingly important for families, especially for the many experiencing marital instability or economic anxieties. Utrata’s current research, based on in-depth qualitative interviews and ethnographic observations, analyzes the undertheorized phenomenon of intensive grandmothering. She argues that attention to intergenerational relations is imperative for advancing our understanding of intensive mothering in addition to the broader stalled gender revolution in American family life. Many grandmothers leaning into what constitutes a “third shift” of carework – caregiving outside the home, especially for relatives (Gerstel 2000) – support and enable intensive mothering practices. Grandmothers want to help, but they find themselves doing much more than they anticipated.


Jennifer is a sociologist interested in how economic and cultural transformations shape gender and intimate relationships in families. Her award-winning book, Women without Men: Single Mothers and Family Change in the New Russia (Cornell, 2015), analyzes how ordinary people, especially single mothers, navigate the transition from state socialism to market capitalism during Russia’s “quiet revolution” in family life. Through in-depth analysis of Russia’s matrifocal families, she challenges several assumptions underlying theories of family life, poverty, and gender. Related to her interest in single-mother families, she has written about nonresident fathers and divorce, the effects of work insecurities and neoliberal capitalism on the self, intergenerational relations between grandmothers and adult children, the intersectionality of gender and age, and the ways in which unpaid care work shapes gender inequality. Her current research examines how “intensive grandmothering” in the United States affects the transition to parenthood, parents’ responses to the child-care crisis, and broader inequalities among families.