The impact of paid work

How economic factors effect the domestic division of labour.

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Today, three-quarters of married or cohabiting women in the UK are economically active, as against fewer than half in 1971.

Sociologists are interested in whether this trend towards both partners working is leading to a more equal division of domestic tasks.

For example, Man-Yee kan (2001) found income from employment, age and education affected much housework women did: better-paid, younger, better-educated women did less housework. For example, every £10,000 increase in the woman's annual salary income reduces her weekly housework time by two hours.

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Trends towards equality

Johnathon Gershuny (1994) found that wives who worked full time did less domestic work:

-Wives who did not go to work did 83% of the housework and even wives who worked part-time still did 82%.

-Wives who worked full-time did 73% of the hosuework. The longer the wife had been in paid work, the more housework her husband was likely to do.

-Couples whose parents had a more equal relationship were likely to share housework more equally themselves.

Similarly, Oriel Sullivan found a trend towards greater equality as men did more domestic labour. There was an increase in men doing more 'women' tasks.

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Trends towards equality

However the views of Sullivan and Gershuny can be classed as very optimistic, similiarly to Young and Willmott's 'march of progress' view that conjugal roles are becoming symmetrical.

Rosemary Crompton (1997) accepts Gershuny's evidence but explains it in a different manner. Although the men may be doing more work around the house because the woman is working, still doesn't rule out inequality. The earning's stil remain unequal and women's earnings are only three quarters of mens.

Crompton therefore concludes that as long as earnings remain unequal, so too will the division of labour at home.

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The commercialisation of housework

Hilary Silver (1987) and Juliet Schor (1993) stress the importance of two major economic developments in reducing the burden of housework on women:

-Housework has become 'Commecialised'. Goods and services that housewives previously had to produce themselves are now mass-produced and supplied by supermarkets, fast food outlets and so on. Freezers, microwave ovens, 'ready meals' etc all reduce the amount of domestic labour that needs to be done.

-Women working means that they can afford to buy these goods and services.

As a result, Silver and Schor argue, the burden of housework on women has decreased. Schor even goes as far as to say that these developments have led to 'the death of the housewife role'.

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The commercialisation of housework

However, critics argue that for many poorer women, buying in expensive goods and services is not an option. Also, even if commercialisation has reduced the amount of housework to be done, this does not prove that couples are sharing the remaining chores equally.

For poorer women who do not work, and who's husband doesn't earn a lot of money, their housework may not neccessarily become 'commercialised' because they cant afford the goods and services required to not do as much domestic work around the house. The trend lies within families where there is a relatively high wage annually between both spouses, for the 'commercialisation' theory to work.

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The dual burden

Many feminists argue that, despite women working, there is little evidence of a 'new man' who does an equal share of domestic work. They argue that women have simply aquired a dual burden of paid work and unpaid housework. In the view of the feminists, the family remains patriarchal: men benefit from both the women's earnings and from their domestic labour.

Elsa Ferru abd Kate Smith (1996) provide evidence of the dual burden. They found that increased employment of women outside the home has had little impact on the domestic division of labour. Based on a sample of 1,589 33-year-old fathers and mothers, they found that the father took the main responsibility for childcare in fewer than 4% of families.

Even where a woman works and her husband is unemployed, there is little evidence of husbands doing more at home. Lydia Morris (1990) found that men who had suffered a loss of their masculine role as a result of becoming unemployed saw domestic work as women's work and therefore to be avoided.

However Xavier Ramos (2003) found that in families where the man is not in paid work and his partner works full-time, male domestic labour matches that of his partner (19 hours per week).

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The dual burden

For many women, access to full-time childcare is essential. However, as Sara Arber and Jay Ginn (1995) point out, middle-class women may be able to afford this, but many working-class women cannot. As a result, working-class women have full responsibility for childcare and low-paid, part-time employment.

Nicky Gregson and Michelle Lowe (1994) found that middle-class families found it more economical to employ working-class women as nannies and cleaners than for the wife to stay at home doing the housework. The working-class however, cannot afford to do this therefore are left with the dual burden of paid and unpaid domestic work.

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Emotion work

'Emotion work' describes work whose main feature is the management of one's own and other people's emotions. Arlie Hochschild (1983) originally used the concept to describe jobs such as airline stewardesses. She notes that women are more likely than men to be performing jobs involving emotional labour.

Emotion work is usually seen as a 'labour of love' because it involves caring for other family members. Nevertheless, it is work, and work done mainly by women. Jean Duncombe and Dennis Marsden (1995) argue that women are expected not only to do a double shift of both housework and paid work, but also work a triple shift that includes emotion work.

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Lesbian couples and gender scripts

Why has there been so little change in the division of labour, despite the increase in the number of women working?

Gillian Dunne (1999) argues that the division of labour continues because of deeply ingrained 'gender scripts'. These are expectations or norms that set out the different gender roles men and women in heterosexual couples are expected to play.

Dunne contrasts this with the situation among lesbian couples, where gender scripts do not operate to the same extent. In her study of 37 cohabiting lesbian couples with dependant children, Dunne found evidence of symmetry in their relationships. Compared to heterosexual women, lesbians are more likely to:

- Describe their relationship as equal and share housework and childcare equally.

-Give equal importance to both partners' careers.

-View childcare positively.

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Lesbian couples and gender scripts

Dunne argues that heterosexual couples are under more pressure to conform to masculine or feminine 'gender scripts' by performing different kinds of domestic tasks that confirm their gender identities.

In lesbian relationships however, household tasks are not linked to particular gender scripts, which allows them to share the duties more equally amongst themselves to create more of an equal relationship. Dunne's study commented that in heterosexual relationships, there is always a subconscious belief that women should do the housework.

This supports the radical feminist view that relationships between men and women are inevitably patriarchal and therefore equality can only be achieved in same-sex relationships.

However, Dunne found that where one partner did much more paid work than the other, the time that each partner spent on domestic work was likely to be unequal. This suggests that paid work exerts an important influence on the division of labour even in same-sex relationships.

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