The Intersection of Motherhood Identity with Culture and Class: a Qualitative Study of East Asian Mothers in England

  • Joo Lim

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This study explores the accounts of first generation East Asian mothers living in England, for the purpose of examining if and how these women perceive their national and/or ethnic cultural heritage has affected their experiences and identity formation. In order to achieve this aim, the thesis investigates the gendered division of labour within the family and discourse around motherhood and employment, using biographical interviews with 30 first generation East Asian mothers with children under the age of 11. I develop an integrativetheoretical framework by deploying various theories in order to analyse the complex and dynamic characteristics of identity formation for ethnic minority mothers. The concepts I draw on are ideology and discourse, storytelling and ‘othering’, patriarchy, masculinity and femininity, nation, ethnie, culture, class and intersectionality. The data was analysed by using discourse analysis, focusing on discursive themes across interview data, in conjunction with detailed narrative analysis of the individual life stories of four of the women.The findings of the data indicated that despite the increasing involvement of male partners in childcare and domestic work, women’s stories suggested that they continued to take on the majority of household labour. In addition, this pattern was more prominent among East Asian couples than mixed ethnic couples. This is suggestive of the persistent influence of the Confucian patriarchal norms among East Asian couples outside East Asia. Alongsidethis, the examination of discourse and narratives around motherhood and employment indicated that the motherhood ideologies of individual women, influenced by national and/or ethnic cultural heritage, had a major impact on mothers’ decision towards childcare and employment. For example, the majority of mothers from Korea and some mothers from Japan tended to endorse an intensive mothering ideology, in which women were expected to stay at home devoting their time and energy to looking after their children. The talk of home-stay mothers was dominated by the importance of the mother’s care for thepsychological wellbeing of their children. In this discourse the mother’s absence was portrayed as having a detrimental effect on the healthy development of young children. But rather than referring to a Western notion of intensive motherhood (see Hays 1996), they talked of their decisions in reference to the way that mothers and fathers were expected to act in their country of origin. This contrasted with the discourse of employed mothers (especially from China), which did not necessarily support the incessant presence and availability of mothers for children, regarding childcare as replaceable by others, such asgrandparents. The Chinese women talked of this in reference to their perception of the culture in China where all adults are expected to work, regardless of childcare responsibilities. However, despite notable differences in discourse around ‘good’ mothering and employment between home-stay mothers and employed mothers, the gendered idea about men’s and women’s roles seemed to continue to affect the predominant majority of women in my study, irrespective of their employment status. Hence, both home-stay and most employed mothers remained to be the primary care provider as well as taking the major burden of household labour, being subject to a gendered understanding of motherhood and womanhood.
Date of Award21 Nov 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorTina Skinner (Supervisor)


  • class
  • confucianism
  • culture
  • East Asian mothers
  • intersectionality
  • motherhood
  • Identity

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