Examining ideology and agency within intensive motherhood literature

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In exploring why American mothers spend more time on care work compared to prior decades while increasingly engaging in paid work, Hays (1997) attributed women's actions to intensive motherhood (IM) ideology. Hays also asserted that women purposedly adhere to IM to resist an increasingly neoliberal market-based society by dedicating time and effort to nurturing children and family life. Here, we undertake a content analysis to take stock of IM literature's evolution in recent decades. Specifically, we examine scholars’ treatment of how women adhere to IM, and why and whether women do so in resistance to neoliberalism. We found that while scholars consistently cite and echo Hays (1997) on how women adhere to IM, most depart from Hays (1997) by positing women adhere to live up to an ideal of being a perfect mother due to the pervasive nature of IM. We also found many scholars focus on the possibility of resisting IM ideology itself rather than Hays’s (1997) perspective that women employ the ideology to resist neoliberalism. These findings raise questions about how women's agency manifests in the IM context, and concerns about embedded assumptions that limit our understanding of women's realities. Implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-65
Number of pages19
JournalFeminism and Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2024


  • Sharon Hays
  • United States/global
  • agency
  • content analysis
  • feminist theory
  • ideology
  • intensive motherhood


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