Professor of Sociology, Ball State University
Topics of Expertise: Division of Labor in Families / Parenthood: Motherhood/Fatherhood / Public Policy / Work & Family
Richard J. Petts is Professor of Sociology at Ball State University. His research lies at the intersections of family, work, gender, and policy, seeking to identify and understand policies and practices that can reduce gender inequality, promote greater work-family balance, and improve family well-being.
His current work focuses on parental leave as a policy and practice that may help to reduce family and gender inequality. His work demonstrates that when fathers take longer periods of leave, they are more involved in their children’s lives, mothers report better relationships with fathers, children report better relationships with their fathers when they get older, and parents are less likely to end their relationship. Additionally, mothers are more likely to engage in positive parenting practices and have better mental health when they take longer periods of leave. Through the use of survey experiments, he is currently considering ways in which we can change the culture surrounding parental leave-taking in the U.S. Evidence suggests that workers are viewed as more committed to their job and as better parents when leave policies and workplace culture is more favorable. There is also evidence that favorable leave policies may help to reduce gender equality.
He has also done substantial work on fatherhood. His recent book, Father Involvement and Gender Inequality in the United States: Contemporary Norms and Barriers, explores the importance of father involvement for gender equality and why fathers continue to be less involved than mothers despite changes in the culture of fatherhood. He argues that to work toward gender equality, fatherhood norms must change so that fathers are expected to be fully engaged dads who are expected to be fully engaged in all aspects of domestic life.
In collaboration with Daniel L. Carlson, he is also conducting a novel longitudinal study; the Study on U.S. Parents’ Divisions of Labor during COVID-19 follows parents from prior to the pandemic (March 2020) through September 2024. This unique dataset provides valuable insight into how the pandemic impacted the gendered division of labor within families, and has important implications for our broader understanding of gender inequality and ways to promote greater egalitarianism in both the paid labor and domestic spheres.
Dr. Petts has received funding for his work from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Science Foundation. His research has been published in top academic journals such as American Sociological Review, Social Forces, and Journal of Marriage and Family. His research has been featured in media outlets such as ABC News, CNN, The New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. He is also a member of the International Network on Leave Policies & Research (www.leavenetwork.org), an international network of leave policy experts who publish an annual review of international leave policies.