The Family: Domestic Division of Labour

Key concepts, arguments and criticisms regarding the 'Domestic Division of Labour.'

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AS Sociology ­ The Family: Couples
The Domestic Division of Labour
Division of labour is a term given to the distribution of conjugal roles between partnerships within a
household. Traditionally, these are heterosexual partnerships, although there are a few studies
surrounding homosexual partnerships and the domestic division of labour.
Conjugal roles ­ roles within the home
Gender roles roles expected of each gender, typically the female as the housewife and the male as
the breadwinner
Segregated conjugal roles ­ separate roles within the home
Joint conjugal roles ­ shared roles within the home
George Murdock a Functionalist claims that sexual division is natural instilling that the
male is the breadwinner and the female is the homemaker.
Talcott Parsons a Functionalist thinker expands on Murdock's theory, agreeing with the
traditional distribution of conjugal roles, that is the male is the breadwinner and the female is the
housewife/homemaker. He discusses how husbands have an instrumental role, whilst wives have an
expressive role within the family. Men are an instrument that financially provides for the family,
whereas the female is an agent that deals with the emotional support (and primary socialisation) for the
family, supporting her traditional maternal role. Parsons argues these roles are purely biological.
This ties in with his `warm bath theory' that the family is a warm bath for its members, as it soothes
and warms their aches and pains.
March of Progress thinkers Young & Willmott believe that the family has become
symmetrical, that is the distribution of conjugal roles between a partnership has become more equal,
however not entirely. Their study took place in Bethnal Green, London concerning mainly working
class families. Their study was based around one question, along the lines of: `Does you/your husband
participate in housework at least once a week?' They found that symmetry was more common
amongst younger couples, due to their increased social and geographical isolation, wealth and
better living standards compared to older couples. Their study found that the main reasons for the
increase in the symmetrical family were:
Better living standards (men were more eager to stay in the home and improve to its aesthetics, for
example DIY)
Working Women (women became financially independent, meaning increased gender equality
provoking a change in social attitudes and so the sharing of household tasks)
Geographical mobility (women in the workplace meant they had a higher income, and so could move
into their own property, meaning less influence from wider society and families)
Technology (cleaning gadgets and products meant household chores were less strenuous and easier to
participate in, and also the development of entertainment technology meant couples could stay in and
experience the cinematic experience at home)
Feminist Ann Oakley carried out a study of women in the 1970s, half middle class, and half working
class ­ all with at least one child under the age of five years. Her study found that only 15% of men

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She claims this is due to the industrialisation process, which caused segregation in the home.
Prior to this the family was a unit of production and so the females were an active part of the work
force, however were then forced into the home, causing financial dependence on men and so
subordinacy, supporting the notion that the term housewife is a social construct. Although there has
been an increase in working women, being a housewife is still the primary role.…read more


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