Domestic Division of Labour - Research

Consists of Research by

Elizabeth Bott

Wilmott and Young

Anne Oakley

British Social Attitudes Survey

Feri and Smith


Duncombe and Marsden

Dobash and Dobash


NB Davis



Martin and Roberts


Hardill et al




  • Created by: Gracious
  • Created on: 08-05-12 08:44

Elizabeth Bott - Family and Social Network (1957)

  • Describes the predominant types of conjugal role relationships
  • Segregated conjugal roles - this is whre there is  a clear division of labour in the male and female tasks, separate interests and activities, different friends and leisure pursuits
  • Joint Conjugal roles - where many activities are carried out together by husband and wife. there is minmium task separation and tasks often exchanged;close interests and planning of family affairs together. alot of leisure time spent together
  • Bott found that joint roles were more likely to be found amongst middle class and young couples but these were  not the most important factors
  • most importantly those with the close-knit social networks, where friends and relatives lived close to together and knew each other, were more likely to experience segregated roles . This is probably because the husband and wife were less dependent on each other for social life and attitudes
  • in contrast, those couples with loose knit social networks where few of their friends and neighbours knew each other , were more likely to have joint conjugal roles
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Wilmott and Young - The Symmetrical Family (1975)

  • Used the concept of conjugal roles in their explanatipon of the symmetrical family, which they saw to be the typical family of today
  • the symmetrical is seen to have 3 main characteristics ; nuclear in structure, joint conjugal roles and home centred
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What does 'equal' mean? -

We can measure this in a number of ways

  • how does which jobs
  • how much time is committed to each partner
  • balance - does each partner make an equal contribution

Feminists would argue that researchers such as Wilmott and Young did not look closely at what this really means. Ann Oakley criticises them for assuming that answering 'yes; to one question about doing one chore  a week was a sign of equality

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How can we measure the level of equality?

Sociologists have looked at a number of different areas - some have more roles and some have looked at relationships. the main areas have been

  • Household chores - who does them? how often? which jobs?
  • Finance- who has control? type of bank account? who contributes most?
  • Childcare - who spends the most time? who takes the time off work? who plays and discplines?
  • Decisions- who makes them; what kind of decisions? who has the most power?
  • Work outside the home - type of job? hours worked and income?
  • 'Emotion Work' - who keep things happy and smooth?
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Oakley -The Sociology of Housework (1975)

  • 40 married women between the age of 20 - 30
  • Found greater equality in domestic tasks in middle class than the working class
  • In both cases, most marriages showed low participation by husbands, this meant they could hardly be called egalitarian
  • There was more male participation in childcare than housework
  • 15% had high participation in housework and 25% in childcare
  • Socialisationa and idealogy found to be very important - many women didnt expect their husbands to share the housework
  • Oakley saw that the role of the 'housewife' was created by the industrialisation and the exclusionof women and children from the world of work by men
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British Social Attitudes Surveys 1984 , 1991, 1997

  • Found some evidence of equality and more tasks done by men and more sharing of housework
  • Women had become more involved in traditional 'men's work' such as household repairs
  • Some tasks still largely done by women e.g ironing and washing 79% in 1997#
  • Households in which men are mainly responsible still formed a small minority
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Childcare - Boulton - On being a mother (1983)

Study of 50 married mothers

  • Found that men often helped but never took primary responsibility
  • Women more likely to put their own lives and interests second
  • Only 18% of husbands gave extensive help and 46% gave minimal help
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Childcare - Feri and Smith (1996) - Parenting in t

  • Found similar results as Boulton, but with a much larger sample of several thousand
  • Little evidence of more equal sharing of household chores
  • Father was main carer in fewe 4% of families
  • Fathers rarely looked after children when they were ill
  • Women's employment seems to have had little impact on the sharing of tasks
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'Emotion Work' and Violence Duncombe and Marsden (

The Triple Shift

  • Interviewed 40 couples married for 15 years
  • identified another area of work that is done women  - 'emotion work' - keeping people happy, making everything go smoothly
  • see women as learning this types of emotional skills and holding relationships together by doing 'emotion work' - many men did not realise that there was a 'problem'
  • Many women felt their partners did not show their feelings enough and they had to maintain family happiness abd stability themselves
  • Saw women therefore doing the 'triple shift' (triple shift = most of the housework + paid employment + most of the emotion work)
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Emotion Work and Violence - Dobash and Dobash (197

Violence against wives

  • In depth interviews with 137 women who had been battered. Found that wife - battering is wide spread - 25% of all serious assaults were husbands on wives, though many go unrecorded
  • they argue that it is important to understand marital relationships in order to understand violence
  • marriage is an unequal power relationship because women are made dependent as wives and mothers
  • This power relationship reflects the social norms and social inequalities in the wider society
  • Women often have to stay in the situation because of economic dependence and the absence of childcare facilities
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Decision Making Edgell - (1980)

Middle Class Couples

  • Husbands dominanted three areas of decision making- moving house, finance and cars- all seen as important by both partners
  • Wives dominanted decisions on internal decorations, child's clothing, domestic spending on things like food - all seen as relatively unimportant by both partners
  • Half the husbands and wives saw equality as a bad thing
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Decision Making NB Davis (1991)

Davis suggest that this approach is flawed as it does not take account of the ways in which power and persuasion can be excerised in a number of subtle ways

She suggests that many women accept the situation or may use their social and manipulative skills to undermine men's power

Non Decision Making

Many tasks in the family are not 'decided' - they just happen the way they do because it is assumed that the man or the women does the type of tasks

It is taken for granted that the man's job generally comes first and that the woman will give up employment when she has children. Most domestic tasks are seen as 'women's work'

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Non Decision Making

Many tasks in the family are not decided -they just happen the way they do because it is assumed that the man or the woman does that type of task 

It is taken for granted that the man's job generally comes first and women will give up employment when she has a child.

Most domestic task are considere to be a woman job!! traditionally seen as "women's work"

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FINANCE - Pahl (1993) Money, Marriage and Ideology

  • Interviews with 102 couple with children - seen both alone and together 
  • described four patterns, depending on type of bank account and who had control:
      • Husband controlled pooling- most common. Money shared but husband had most of the control. Wife often had lower income 
      • Wife controlling pooling: Next most common. Money shared but wife did most of spending and paying bills. Often where bot in the couple bothhad well paid jobs.
      • Husband control: husband most often had the main or only paying job  and was in complete control. Wife was just given housekeeping money
      • Wife control: least common. Often where there was a low income or no earner. Women given responsibility of 'making ends meet'
  • Therefore in just a 1/4 of couples, there was some degree of equality, but in most cases men had more power
  • Men spent more on themselves. Women were more likely to go short  themselves to hae more for husband and children 
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FINANCE- Volger (1994)

  • Study of money mangagement in 1211 couples 
  • found dewer women were given housekeeping money than in Pahl's study
  • Pooling increased to 50%, but majority still had unequal financial control (80%) despite the increase in women's employment 
  • Wife controlled systems were still usually in strugglig low-income households 
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  • Survey of 6000 women aged 16- 59
  • Found men more likely to be involved in housework and childcare if wife worked full time 
  • But - 54% of full time and 77% of part time women workers did all or most of the housework
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  • Used data from 1975 and 1987 to study the effects on the roles of the increase in the number of married women working 
  • where the wife was not working, the husband's share of the total work time was less than the wife's on average 
  • where the wife was in work, the husbands share of the total work was less, and the wife had a hard time if she was in fll time emplyment
  • when the wife was employed full time, the time spent by the husband cooking and cleaning increased by 20 minutes (1975) to 40 minutes per week (1987)
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This is a great resource which clearly and comprehensively identifies the research surrounding the domestic division of labour topic. This can be further enhanced during revision by identifying key counters which would be useful when planning potential essay question.

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