The Domestic Division of Labour

Revision cards to show topics that you can discuss about the division of labour on the A level Sociology: Families and Households section on the exam.

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  • Created by: Sophie
  • Created on: 14-12-09 17:06


The domestic division of labour refers to the roles men and women play in relation to housework, payed work and child care.

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Paron's Instrumental and Expressive roles...

Instrumental role: This is the role which does payed work and brings money to support the family, ideally played by the man in a functionalist perspective.

Expressive role: Engaged in primary socialisation of the children and meets the family's emotional needs and a full time house-worker. This role should be played by the woman in a functionalist perspective.

However, it could be argued that the family is becoming more symmetrical so instrumental and expressive roles are now shared, rather than assigned to particular genders. Feminists say that the expressive role oppresses women because it means that they aren't earning and cannot leave a violent relationship. Parson's view of instrumental and expressive roles ignores other family types- instrumental and expressive roles only fit the nuclear family. Parson's research was only done on white, middle-class Americans. What about other cultures?

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Young and Wilmott's Symmetrical Family...

Young and Wilmott take a 'march of progress' view. This means that family life is becoming more equal and that man and wife share conjugal roles (roles in marriage). There has been a rise in the symmetrical family.

Young and Wilmott state:

  • Women now do payed work
  • Men now do house work
  • Couples spend more time together

Young and Wilmott studied young families in London and found that those who were geographically mobile (moved away from hometown) were more likely to be equal. This is because they are socially isolated and don't know many people from the area, so are 'forced' to spend more time together.

However, this goes against Parson's view of the nuclear family.

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What has caused the rise in the symmetrical family

The change in position of women: Married women now work so it's a possibility that they are on equal wages and can afford the same things.

Geographical mobility: Couples spend more time together.

Technology: Labour saving devices (e.g microwaves, readymeals) are now available so it's not as much as a 'chore' for a man to be a houseworker.

High living standards: Because couples can afford new decoration items for their home, they make it look attractive so want to spend time there, together, rather than down at the pub with their mates.

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Ann Oakley: The Feminist View of Housework...

Feminists reject the 'march of progress' view. Ann Oakley says that little has changed and that men still do little housework.

Ann Oakley criticises Young and Wilmott stating:

  • They exaggerated their claims.
  • Although men said they helped their wives, what actually defines 'help'? This could simply mean making them breakfast on the odd occasion. Hardly help!

Oakley's own research found:

  • 15% of husbands had a high level of participation in house work.
  • 25% of husbands had a high level of participation in child care.
  • A good husband is seen as one who takes the child 'off their wife's hands.' Should they even be in the wife's hands in the first place though? This assumes that women are the natural carers.
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Other Arguments...

Boulton supports Ann Oakley. He said that even though the Father might take part in specific tasks, it is generally the Mother who is responsible for the child's well being.

Warde and Hetherington also support. The found sex-typing in specific tasks.

E.g the man does repair work and DIY, whilst the woman cleans the house.

They found that men have an extra 30mins in the day compared to women (on average).

BUT, it could be argued that men's jobs are more intensive.

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Even though the family is becoming more equal, the woman is still the 'main' house keeper and child carer.

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Great stuff. Appreciate it.

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