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The Domestic Division of Labour

The domestic divison of labour refers to the roles that men and women play in relation to housework, childcare and paid work.

Parsons' (1955) functionalist model of the family shows clear domestic division of labour:

  • The husband has an instrumental role - aims to succeed at work, and financially provides for the family
  • The wife has an expressive role - geared towards the primary socialisation of the children, and meets the emotional needs of the family. Full time housewife 

Parsons argues that the division of labour is based on biological differences, e.g. women caring.

Critics of Parsons:

  • Young and Willmott (1962) - argue that men are now taking a greater share of domestic tasks and wives are becoming wage earners
  • Feminist sociologists reject that th divison of labour is natural, and argue it only benefits men
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The Domestic Division of Labour (2)

Bott (1957) - distinguishes between two types of conjugal roles within marriage:

  • Segregated conjugal roles - couple has separate roles and their leisure time is spent apart
  • Joint conjugal roles - couple share taks such as housework and spend leisure time together

Support from Young and Willmott (1950) - carried out study on working-class extended families in east London, finding men as breadwinners and females as full time housewives

Young and Willmott (1973) - 'march of progress' view seeing the family as gradually improving for all its members and becoming more equal and democratic. More 'symmetrical family'. This is due to:

  • changes in women's position in society
  • geographical mobility
  • higher standards of living 

Feminists reject this. Oakley (1974) argues that husbands who had high participation in housework was 15% and only 25% had high participation in childcare.

Warde and Hetherington (1993) found men would only carry out 'female' tasks when women weren't around to do so. Younger men had less of this attitude.

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Are Couples Becoming More Equal?

The impact of paid work - more women are entering work. Mixed responses as to whether it is leading to a 'march of progress' or whether it is a 'dual burden' on women (paid work and housework)


Gershuny (1994)  - argues that women working full time is leading to more equal labour at home.   Sullivan (2000) - found a trend towards women doing a smaller share of domestic work and an increase in couples with an equal division of labour


Feminist sociologists see that women entering work has not led to equal division of labour.         Boulton (1983) - says that although fathers may help, the mother takes responsibility for the child's security and well-being.                                                                                              

Duncome and Marsden (1995)  - argue that women have to perform a 'triple shift' of housework, paid work and emotional work

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Are Couples Becoming More Equal?

Explaining the gender division of labour:                                                                                   Crompton and Lyonette (2008) propose two explanations for the unequal division of labour-           

  • The cultural or ideological explanation of inequality - division of labour is determined by the patriarchal norms and values that shape the gender roles in our culture


Gershuny (1994) - found couples whose parents had a more equal relationship and more likely to share housework equally themselves.

  • The material or economic explanation of inequality - women generally earn less so it is more economically viable for women to do more housework and men provide for the family.


Ramos (2003) - found that where the woman is the full time breadwinner and the man is unemployed, he does as much work as she does. 

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Resources and Decision-making in Households

There is inequality in how the family's resources are shared out between men and women. This is linked to who controls the family's income and who has the decision-making power. 

Barrett and McIntosh (1991) - claim men gain more from women's domestic work than they give back financially, the financial support they give their wives is unpredictable and often has strings attached, and men usually make the decisions. 

Pahl and Vogler (1993) - identify two main controls over income: the allowance system and pooling

Edgell's (1980) study found that very important decisions were made by men, important decisions made jointly, and less important decisions were made by the women. 

Personal life perspective on money - money may have different meanings in different relationships. 

Weeks et al (2001) - found that pooling was typical for household spending, with separate accounts for personal spending. 

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Domestic Violence

Sociologists have challenged the view that domestic violence only occurs occassionally, by stating it is far too widespread and it does not occur randomly but rather it follows a pattern.

Dobash and Dobash found that violent crimes could be set off when the husband felt his authority to be challenged. They argue marriage legitimates violence against women as husbands seen as having power.

Yearnshire (1997) found that a woman suffers 35 assaults before making a report.


Radical feminist explanation - Millet and Firestone (1970) argue that societies are founded upon patriarchy and men are the oppressors and the enemy. They see domestic violence as inevitable.                                                                       Robertson Elliot (1996) rejects this, saying not all men are aggressive and most oppose domestic violence. 

Materialist explanation - focuses on material and economic factors.                                                                            

Wilkinson and Pickett (2010) see domestic violence as the result of stress on family members due to social inequality.    

Marxist feminists agree, seeing inequality as the cause of domestic violence.                                                                    

Ansley (1972) describes women as 'takers of ****'. Men take stress out on women. 

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