Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Education and Human Services


Family Science and Human Development

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Brad van Eeden-Moorefield

Committee Member

Soyoung Lee

Committee Member

Lyndal Khaw


This dissertation explores how scholars have extended Sharon Hays’ (1997) influential work on Intensive Motherhood Ideology (IM). In conceptualizing IM, Dr. Hays proposed that IM ideology leads women in cisgender heterosexual unions to spend more time caregiving despite increased participation in paid work, compared to prior decades. Dr. Hays further asserted IM is a form of resistance to neoliberalism (i.e., capitalism based on a free-market system). However, it is unclear to what degree women are driven by an oppressive ideology and/or are making important social contributions based on conscious choice, which carries important implications for women’s agency. Through content analyses, I examine scholars’ treatment of ideology and agency across IM literature. Additionally, I engage in an autoethnographic study to make meaning of how I perceive women’s (and my) experiences reflected in the literature. Findings suggest limitations and androcentric perspectives that affect our understanding of motherhood. Most scholars focus on how women adhere to IM ideology, rarely why. Authors’ positions on agency are clearly articulated in only a small subset of articles. Participants are often described as adapting to or negotiating with a pervasive ideology within their unique contexts and only some manage to resist. I also find that women’s social constraints are ignored or considered in limited ways. Lastly, such limitations in IM literature risk tainting the larger motherhood literature with such perspectives. Implications of these findings are discussed, and suggestions made to promote a more representative and accurate understanding of women’s lived experience.

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