The Gendered Division Of Labour Within The Domestic Sphere

1982 words - 8 pages

Sociological study on the gendered division of labour within the domestic sphere has perennially been characterised by evidence of a clear inequality concerning the allocation of unpaid chores within the home between men and women (Warren, 2003:734). While men have traditionally been regarded as primary breadwinners, the management of home-maintenance has remained largely women’s responsibility (Breen & Cooke, 2005:47). A number of theories exist to explain this unequal distribution of domestic labour, in particular the economic exchange model (which argues that women perform domestic duties in ‘exchange’ for financial support from their husbands), and the gender display model, which asserts ...view middle of the document...

Curtis (1986:180, as cited in Brines, 1994:657) suggests that the power differential occurs because women are expecting an ‘unspecified benefaction’ to be decided, and provided by their partners at a future date. This use of housework as a ‘social exchange’ (Brines, 1994:657) is problematic, in that the amount of accumulated housework performed by a wife outweighs the monetary benefit provided to the household by the husband (Sullivan, 2000:442).
Although the economic exchange model provides a historical account of why the gendered division of labour may have been an accepted part of life during a time when women’s workforce participation was considered unusual, it is not able to explain why a clear inequality persists in a time of more inclusive workplace involvement (Maher & Singleton, 2003:61). Evidence indicates that women who spend longer hours in paid employment do less unpaid domestic work, clearly owing to a reduction in the available time to perform such tasks (Baxter, 1992:16). The same does not hold true for men, however, with research indicating that less time spent in paid employment is correlated with a reduction in the amount of domestic work undertaken (Bittman et al., 2003:187). Shamir (1986, as cited in Baxter, 1992:403) argues that men who are unemployed or retired do less domestic work than those in full-time employment, indicating that removing a male’s role as the ‘breadwinner’ conflicts with a masculine identity, and creates an unwillingness to further conflict identity through increased involvement in ‘women’s work’ (Dempsey, 1997:5).

Through a series of qualitative interviews, Maher and Singleton, (2003:74) explore the active experience of cohabitating couples, particularly relating to concepts of fairness in the division of domestic labour. They argue that males are more likely to overstate their involvement in domestic duties (even though the unequal division is still clear) and that women traditionally greet this involvement with over-exaggerated and (at times) unwarranted positivism. Bittman et al. (2003:189) provide evidence of ‘threat points’ that may explain this unwillingness to openly acknowledge and unfair and unequal division of domestic labour. Each individual’s threat point is regarded as the economic and social standing that would be returned to in the event of a terminated relationship. For husbands with greater economic earning power, who traditionally give up custody rights of children in the event of separation, the threat of a relationship ending may not be as severe (Bittman et al., 2003:192).

While the economic exchange model is useful for explaining the gendered division of labour in terms of bargaining power, its main criticism comes from the fact that it is gender neutral (Baxter, 202:402). Essentially, the model should hold true even when the female in the household becomes the primary breadwinner; that is, the male should undertake more of the domestic duty when he is not required to...

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