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 focuses on family inequality, seeking to understand how social institutions and/or policies may exacerbate or help to reduce family inequality.
His current work focuses on parental leave as a policy and practice that may help to reduce family inequality. He has published numerous studies on this topic, and findings demonstrate 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. As such, increasing access to parental leave will likely improve family outcomes and help to reduce family inequalities.
He is currently expanding on research in this area to consider ways in which we can change the culture surrounding parental leave-taking in the U.S. He is conducting survey experiments that seek to identify the policy conditions that may lead people to be more accepting of workers taking leave.
In addition to his work on parental leave, he has also done substantial work on whether religion may alleviate or exacerbate family inequality. This work suggests that being actively religious promotes positive child development and mitigates some of the inequalities that single mothers face. Additionally, religion may help to promote greater gender equality in caring for children by encouraging (and providing support for) fathers to be more involved in their children’s lives.
Dr. Petts has received funding for his work on parental leave from Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. His research has been published in top academic journals such as American Sociological Review, Social Forces, Journal of Marriage and Family, and Sex Roles. His research has also been featured in media outlets such as ABC News, Bloomberg News, CNN, Forbes, 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), which is an international network of leave policy experts who publish an annual review of international leave policies.