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Domestic Household Labor

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: General Studies
Wordcount: 1991 words Published: 15th Jun 2015

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The Unequal Division of Domestic Labor:

Why It Works Well for Some Families

Domestic labor is the work done in the household by the members of the family and which is not paid. Domestic labor is work, which most women do on top of their employment, and the amount of work they do after they come home from their employment varies (Aulette 164).

From the late nineteenth century until 1950 the relationship between husband and wife could be described as male domination ("bread winner" or patriarchy) (Speakman 83). The father/husband was the undoubted head of the household; his needs, his value, and his viewpoint were always considered first (Speakman 83).

Women were regarded as inferior and spent their lives as mothers, looking after their children, as wives, looking after the husband, and as house wives, looking after the home (Speakman 84). The wife's role, that is the typical pattern of behavior expected of a wife, reflected the attitudes held about women at the time. These attitudes were basically that women were naturally inferior to men and should accept their authority (Speakman 84). However, it began to change, with greater emphasis on a more shared home life. The equality between husband and wife, sharing of domestic tasks, leisure time spent together with the family and greater pride in the home began to change (Speakman 85). Still today domestic labor is stereotypical gender roles predominate, which stereotypes show that women roles predominantly to do domestic labor in the household (Speakman 83).

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Even though the number of hours that men and women spend on housework is starting to balance, women still do more housework than men do (Aulette 167). Generally, women still do the more “feminine” housework, while men still perform the “masculine” tasks (Speakman 84). This information led me to ask the following questions: why is housework divided unequally and are married couples okay with this arrangement?

My family has a very old fashioned division of housework. My mother does all of the cooking and cleaning, and my father does all of the manual labor in our house. Both of my parents work full time, however, my father works upwards of 80 hours per week. Due to the recent downturn of the United States economy, my father has to work so many more hours than my mother for them to make ends meet. Because of the number of hours that my father works, he feels that it is my mother's responsibility to do the majority of the housework. When asked if they find their housework division acceptable, both parents agree that it is what works best for them, and they would not want it any other way. Despite the fact that housework is divided unequally, some families (mine in particular) agree that this distribution of labor is simply what works best for their household.

A study by Laura Sanchez and Emily W. Kane discusses how each spouse's time availability, resources, and gender ideology affect a married couples' division of housework. The dominant theme in this work suggested that the inevitable response to changing labor force participation and gender attitudes for most couples should be to become more equal in family work (Sanchez 358-359). According to their study, men and women should be working towards an equal division of household work, however, this is not necessarily the case (Sanchez 359-369). Another main point in this study was that men and women both find the division of housework unfair towards women (Sanchez 379). Despite the general consensus that the division of housework is unfair, little is being done to change the division (Sanchez 379). This study demonstrates how housework is divided and also shows that even though men acknowledge the fact that women do most of the housework, the division is still unequal.

Sue Speakman and Mick Marchington did a study, which also delves into the unequal division of housework. This study explores the attitude of men as “breadwinners” and their involvement in housework. They consider what being the “breadwinner” means to working men and how it translates into their wives doing the majority of the housework (Speakman 99). This study demonstrated that the nature of men's resistance to equality at home might be a particularly complex power and gender interaction in which the individual feels that his position as an authoritarian, patriarchal figure at home is under threat (Speakman 101). Men in this study showed that they acknowledge the idea that “things are changing”, however they demonstrate a resistance to the implications of that change in the construction of their own roles and responsibilities (Speakman 101). This study helps show that even though the division of household labor is shifting, many men believe that they will not maintain the “head of the house” position that they are used to.

Many sociologists have ideas about why housework is divided unequally. The social forces of gender inequality, socialization, and rational choice are some of the main influences on the unequal division of labor. These large social forces have an impact on the way that decisions are made on the micro-level of families. In my own family, all three of these factors play a big role in the division of labor.

Socialization is a process where children learn how to understand people in their society and what is expected of them (Aulette 179). Many kinds of socialization take place, and gender socialization is a major type. Boys and girls learn what is expected from their gender and how they are supposed to act (Aulette 179). Many experts believe that peer interaction is an important factor of gender socialization (Aulette 179). Girls playing house and doctor help each other learn how to be good housewives, while boys playing football and war do not (Aulette 179). In an interview with my parents, my mother discussed how throughout her entire life, she only wanted to be a homemaker. She told me, “I grew up in the time where women wanted to go out and be something, but not me. I only wanted to be a mom and spend my days taking care of my children.” This is exactly what my mother did until I entered elementary school. She was a stay at home mother and loved nearly every moment of it. She had absolutely no issues with doing the day to day housework, since my father was the one working full time. I would have thought that when my mother began working full time, my father would help with some of these daily chores however this was not the case. When my mother began working, she still was responsible for the majority of the day to day running of the house, because gender stereotypes led her to believe that it was the woman's responsibility.

Another set of experts, believe that housework is divided in a way that is less related to childhood socialization and more related to the rational choice of who is better suited to do what (Sanchez 360). They believe that the fact that women do most of the housework in most families is explained as a result of rational cooperative decisions made by households (Sanchez 361). By following this line of thinking, the woman is more skilled at doing housework, therefore it makes the most logical sense for her to do things like cooking and laundry. My mother and my father agree that my mother is better suited to do the housework because she is very practiced in it, and simply better at cooking and cleaning. They also agree that since my father works more than my mother does, she has more time to spend on housework.

Gender inequality also plays into the division of housework in my own household. My father is seen as the head of the household, which in turn entitles him to fewer responsibilities when it comes to housework. Even though my mother works full time, my father brings in almost double the money that she does. The findings in Sue Speakman's study are demonstrated by the ideas of my father. According to Speakman's study, men believe that if they take more housework responsibilities their position of “head of the household” will be in jeopardy (101). My father feels that he is entitled to less housework, because he is the “breadwinner” of the family. By not being the “breadwinner” of the family, women should be responsible for the day to day running of the household.

My family can be analyzed using the sociological theory of functionalism. Functionalism is a theoretical perspective that views society as an organized and stable system that is made up of a variety of interrelated parts or structures (Aulette 10). The family from a functionalist perspective is regarded as a system that provides functions for the society and individual members (Aulette 10). It emphasizes that a differentiation of gender roles within the family is a functional necessity (Aulette 10). My family is conservative in the family values debate, and it is apparent that my parents believe that families are a functional units in which the woman's role is centered in the internal affairs of the family. The main way that my family does not fit into this perspective is by the fact that my mother is employed outside of the house. According to the functionalist perspective, men should be the sole monetary providers of the household (Aulette 10). Despite this fact, the large difference in my parents' incomes and hours worked per week reduce this argument to a minimal point.

Overall, my parents have made the unequal division of household labor work for them. Despite many people's opinions, they are both happy with the arrangement. They were placed into this arrangement by the social forces that dictated gender differences. The history of my parents' gender differences is far too extensive for my family to even question. They were both raised to perform their gender-roles through childhood socialization, and see no need to change these roles. My father has always been good at fixing things, and my mother has always been good at the day to day running of the house. Both of my parents agree that the housework is unequally distributed to my mother, but neither of them question this distribution. Due to the recent downturn of the United States economy, my father has to work many more hours per week than my mother for them to make ends meet. With my father working so much, my mother believes that it is only fair that she puts in her share of work by doing the cleaning and cooking. My mother summed up her feelings on their situation by asking, “If our arrangement works so well for us, why should I try to change it?”

Works Cited

Aulette, Judy R. "Housework." Changing American Families. Boston: Pearson

Education, Inc, 2007. 163-189.

Aulette, Judy R. "How to Study Families in the Twenty-First Century." Changing

American Families. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc, 2007. 1-23.

Clements, David. Personal interview. 20 Mar. 2008.

Clements, Nancy. Personal interview. 20 Mar. 2008.

Sanchez, Laura, and Emily W. Kane. "Women's and Men's Constructions of Perceptions

of Housework Fairness." Journal of Family Issues 17 (1996): 358-387. Sage

Journals Online. Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids. 28 Mar. 2008


Speakman, Sue, and Mick Marchington. "Ambivalent Patriarchs: Shiftworkers,

'Breadwinners' and Housework." Work Employment Society 13 (1999): 83-105.

Sage Journals Online. Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids. 28 Mar.

2008 <http://wes.sagepub.com.ezproxy.gvsu.edu/cgi/reprint/13/1/83>.


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