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Examine the factors affecting power relationships and the division of labour between couples
The domestic division of labour refers to the roles that men and women play in relation to
housework, childcare and paid work.
In the traditional nuclear family, the roles of husbands and wives are segregated. In Talcott
Parsons functionalist model of the family, there is clear division of labour between labours. Talcott
Parsons say the man plays an instrumental role in which he goes to work to provide for the family
and is known as the `breadwinner'. Parson sees the wife as having an expressive role where she is
the homemaker and looks after the children and meets the family's emotional needs.
Parson argues that this division of labour is based on biological differences, with women
`naturally; suited to the nurturing role and men to that of the provider. In his view this benefits
their children and wider society.
Elizabeth Bott distinguishes between two types of conjugal roles within marriage which is
segregated conjugal roles, where the couple have separate roles which is as in Parsons
instrumental and expressive role. The other one is, joint conjugal roles where the couple share
tasks such as housework and childcare and spend leisure activities together.
However Young and Willmott dispute parsons view and take a `march of progress' view. They
believe that the family is gradually improving for all its members and is becoming more equal and
democratic, They argue that there has been a long term trend away from segregated conjugal
roles and towards joint conjugal roles and the `symmetrical family'. The `symmetrical family'
means the role of husband and wives are now much more similar as women go to work either part
time or full time, men are now helping with housework and childcare and couples are spending
more leisure time together (they are more home centred or `privatised'). The rise of the
Symmetrical nuclear family is due to major social changes as there have been changes in the
position of women, people are moving away from their communities, new technology and higher
standards of living. They symmetrical family was most commonly found in geographically and
socially isolated and more affluent couples.
Feminists reject Young and Willmott's view and argue that little has changed and that women still
do most of the housework and that the roles still remain unequal.
The feminist Oakley criticise Young and Willmott's view that the family is now symmetrical. She
argues that there claims are exaggerated. She argues that men are more likely to help with the fun
aspects of childcare like playing with them rather than helping with housework for example only
15% of husbands had high level of participation in housework and only 25% had a high level of
participation in childcare.
However Gershuny found that wives who worked did less domestic work, wives who did not go to
work did 83% of housework and wives who worked part time did 82% of housework. Whilst those
who worked full time did 73% of housework. Gershuny says that there is tend towards greater
quality for women and social values are adapting to women working and that men are doing more
housework but they still tend to take responsibility for different tasks.
Hilary silver and Juliet Schor say the burden of housework on women has decreased as goods and
services that housewives previously had to produce themselves are now mass produces such as
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However critics argue that working class women may not be able to
afford these goods.
Feminists also argue that there is dual burden of work and unpaid housework this is so men
benefit from both domestic labour and wage earnings. They also take upon emotional work which
is usually seen as a `labour of love' as it involves caring and look after family members.…read more