The domestic division of labour

Definition: The domestic division of labour refers to the roles that men and women play in relation to housework, childcare and paid work. (Sociologists are interested in whether men and women share domestic tasks equally).

Parsons: Instrumental and expressive roles

Talcott Parsons (1955) believed that there was a clear division of labour between spouses:

.The husband has an instrumental role geared towards achieving success at work so that he can provide for the family financially. He is the breadwinner.

.The wife has an expressive role, geared towards primary socialisation of the children and meeting the family's emotional needs She is the homemaker, a full-time house wife rather than a wage earner.

1 of 11

How and why does Parsons believe these roles are a

Parsons argued that this division of labour is based on biological differences, with women "naturally," suited to the nurturing role and men to that of provider. He claims that this division of labour is beneficial to both men and women, to their children and to wider society. The New Right also hold this view.

2 of 11

Cricisms of Parson's instrumental and expressive r

-Micheal Young and Peter Willmott (1962) argue that men are now taking a greater share of domestic tasks and more wives are becoming wage earners.

-Feminist sociologists reject Parson's view that the division of labour is natural. They argue that it only benefits men.

3 of 11

Elizaeth Bott: Joint and segregated conjugal roles

Elizabeth Bott (1957) distinguishes between two types of conjugal roles (roles within marriage) which are segregated conjugal roles and joint conjugal roles.

4 of 11

Segregated conjugal roles

Segregated conjugal roles are when the couple have separate roles: a male breadwinner and a female homemaker/carer, as in Parsons' instrumental and expressive roles. Their leisure activies also tend to be separate.

5 of 11

Joint conjugal roles

Joint conjugal roles are where the couple share tasks such as housework and childcare and spend theirr leisure time together.

6 of 11

Young and Willmott: segregated conjugal roles case

Young and Willmott identify a pattern of segregated conjugal roles in their study of traditional working class extended families in Bethnal Green, east London, in the 1950s. Men were the breadwinners, most often working in the docks. They played little part in home life and spent their leisure time with workmates in pubs and working men's clubs. Women were full-time housewives with sole responsibility for housework and childcare, helped by their female relatives. The limited leisure that women had was also spent with female kin.

7 of 11

Young and Willmott's "march of progress"

Young and Willlmott (1973) take a "march of progress," view of the history of the family. They see family life as gradually improving for all it's members, becoming more equal and democratic. They argue that there has been a long-term tred away from segregated conjugal roles and towards joint  conjugal roles and the "symmetrical family."

8 of 11

Symmetrical family

By symmetrical family, they mean one in which the roles of husbands and wives, although not identical, are now much more similar:

-Women now go out to work, although this may be part-time rather than full-time.

-Men now help with housework and childcare.

-Couples now spend their leisure time together instead of separtley with workmates or female relatives. They are more home-centred or "privatised."

9 of 11

Where is the symmetrical family most common?

In their study of families in London, Young and Willmott found that the symmetrical family was more common among younger couples, those who are geographically and socially isolated, and the more affluent (better off).

10 of 11

Why has there been a rise in the symmetrical famil

-Changes in the position of women: for example, married people going out to work.

-Geographic mobility: More couples living away from the communities in which they grew up.

-New technology: and labour-saving devices.

-Higher standards of living

(Many of these factors are interlinked.)

11 of 11


No comments have yet been made

Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Families and households resources »