The relationship between men and women in the family

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Changes in roles

  • Growth in feminism:-
    • Challenging the traditional role of women in society by taking a greater role in paid employmen.
    • Challenge their traditional role in society.
  • Conjugal roles:-
    • Changing roles of husbands and wives in the family.
  • Feminism:-
    • Do not agree there are changes in conjugal roles and relationships.
  • Functionalists:-
    • Women are naturally suited to the expressive role and men more suited to the instrumental role.
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Equality in roles

  • Researchers have measured level of equality by operationalising equality as the equal division of labour in the home.
  • Sociologists have attempted to measure equality by examining the distribution of power within marriage.
  • They are interested in seeing who does more domestic labour - where or where not work loads are equal taking into account paid work.
  • Emotion work has been added to the debate.
  • Two sides to the debate ask whether conjugal roles are now equal or fair - whether women continue to do more than their fare share.
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Female employment and the family

  • An important change is the growth in paid employment of married women.
    • In 1941 only 15% of the work force was female
    • In 2010 this figure was 50%
  • 40% of women work part time - there are significant differences between paid employment rates and rates of pay for women and men without children - the picture alters dramatically as soon as they start a family.
  • Arrival of children makes no difference to men's careers but a significance difference to rates of employment and rates of pay for women.
  • Only 50% of women with children under the age of 2 work at all.
  • Single mother's - only 30% in employment.
  • Only 5% of women with children under 2 years old work full time.
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Conjugal roles - a move towards equality

  • Wilmott and Young -
    • along side a move of women entering paid emplyment, the traditional segregated division of labour in the home - men as breadwinners and women as housewives/mothers - this is breaking down.
  • The relationship between husband and wife/ conjugal relationship becoming more joint or symmetrical.
  • Wife has primary responsibility for housework and child rearing, husbands become more involved - washing clothes, ironing and sharing other domestic duties.
  • A trend toward egalitarian marriage was by the decline in extended family and its replacement in the 20th Century by the privatised nuclear family - as well as increasing oppotunities in paid employment for women.
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Functionalists on modern families

  • Modern family characterised by joint conjugal roles compared with segregated roles of earlier times - compared with segregated roles.
  • Growth of romantic love as basis of marriage and development of nuclear family led to greater closeness between partners.
  • Functionalist arguments assume it makes sense for partners to specialise in particular functions relating to biological differences between men and women.
  • Because women give birth to children it is natural for them to look after them and apply the same caring skills to look after husband and home.
  • Parson's saw women's role in the family as expressive - concerned with nurturing and men's role as instrumental - concerned with providing for wife and children.
  • Theories are called march-of-progress theories - imply that as societies develop they get even better - families become more equal, taking joint responsibility for family decisions and spend leisure time in shared activity.
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  • Gershuny - 1992
    • time-budget analysis of detailed diaries kept by respondents on a day-to-day and weekly basis.
    • examined cross-cultural evidence from European and Canadian studies - men carry out more routine domestic activities in greater proportionsparticularly when wives go out to work - there is support for the idea of the symmetrical family. 
    • when women go out to work their total working hours, including domestic activities, still remain greater than men's.
    • Gershuny concludes there is evidence of 'a really very substantial social change over the last couple of decades - and (trends) provide the basis for a not unhopeful view of the future of the household'. 
    •  Young and Willmott also saw the symmetrical family as a trend, and many sociologists would agree that some changes have occurred in the way domestic and childcare tasks are arranged between husbands and wives. 
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  • In the early 1990s, many sociologists concluded that one area where there is greater equality is in parenting.
  • For example, men in the 1990s were more likely to attend the birth of their babies than men in the 1960s and to play a greater role than their fathers in childcare.
  • Burghes (1997) found that fathers are taking an increasingly active role in the emotional development of their children.
  • Dex found that fathers were keen to spend more time with their children yet were prevented from doing so by their long working hours.
  • Gershuny (2000) used diaries from 3000 parents to discover that the amount of time parents spend playing and reading to their children had increased fourfold over the past few generations showing both fathers and mothers had improved the quality of their parenting.
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  • Beck (1992)
    • notes that in the postmodern age, fathers can no longer rely on jobs to provide a sense of identity and fulfilment increasingly.
    • they look to their children to give them a sense of identity and purpose. 
    •  However it is important not to exaggerate men’s role in childcare.
    • This is still overwhelmingly the responsibility of mothers rather than jointly shared with fathers.
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The Feminist Contribution – A Move Towards Equalit

  • It has only been as a result of feminism that family life and relationships have been subjected to detailed scrutiny and a coherent theoretical perspective. 
  •  The impact of feminism has shifted 'the sociology of the family' firmly away from earlier functionalist explanations. 
  • The assertion that 'the personal is political' means, in essence, that even the most private and personal relationships inside the family cannot be divorced from wider systems of gender inequality.
  • these relationships, therefore, carry different degrees of power.
  • The quantifiable evidence indicates that women are still likely to have a ‘dual burden’ – they are expected to be mainly responsible for the bulk of domestic tasks despite holding down full-time jobs. 

  • Women are also responsible for the emotional well-being of their partners and children.

  • The hard work involved in trying to please all parties in the home may lead to the neglect of their own psychological well-being and have negative consequences for their mental and physical health. (taken from Moore

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The New Man

  • Since the early 1970s there has been a wealth of research on the topic as well as discussion in the popular media. 

  •  At times it is said that the 'New Man' has emerged, who shares the household chores equally, or that there are a growing number of 'househusbands' who have done 'role   swaps' with their partners.

  • However, the bulk of evidence continues to show that, despite more than thirty years of feminism, women (and sometimes children) do the bulk of the cooking, caring, shopping and washing that goes on in families.

  • Furthermore, it seems that, while more women have taken on 'male' roles of breadwinner, painter/decorator and so on, they still do more housework than men.

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The British Household Panel Survey

  • The British Household Panel Survey showed that from 2000-2010 wives still undertook an average of 15 hours housework a week in comparison to the husband’s 5.
  • This may be because men are more likely to work full time and women part time, thus could be justified as ‘fair’.
  • However, Warner (2005) carried out a survey which found that home-based (not in paid employment) women work an average of 100 hours a week on domestic tasks, spending 41 hours alone on childcare;  in comparison to men’s weekly average of a 48 hour of paid work.
  • Garrod (2005) researched business women in demanding professional jobs. She called these women ‘Do-it-all’s’ as she found that despite their full time jobs they did three times as much domestic work as their husbands.
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  • Elston, in a study of male and female doctors, found that shopping, cooking and looking after sick children were still seen as a woman's responsibility.
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The Rapoports

  • The Rapoports looked at dual-career families, and found that men tolerated their wives working so long as they still took prime responsibility for housework and childcare.
  • In these situations 'help' is more likely to be paid for, but the responsibility for engaging and dealing with nannies and cleaners usually rests with the woman.
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Emotional Work and the ‘Triple Shift’

  • Duncombe and Marsden argue that women are in fact being exhausted by the ‘triple shift’ of paid labour, domestic and emotional labour.
  • Emotion work refers to the love, sympathy, understanding, praise, reassurance and attention that are involved in maintaining relationships (e.g. phone calls, birthday cards, Christmas present buying to keep relationships with friends and families going).
  • De Vault calls this kind of work ‘invisible labour’, by which she means it carries little status, is rarely recognised she never gets thanks for it!
  • Duncombe and Marsden have studied the emotional side of marriages. According to many women, it is they rather than their husbands who are responsible for most of the emotion work.
  • A study based on interviews with 40 couples found that most of the women complained of men’s ‘emotional distance’ - their partners had problems expressing intimate emotions.
  • Women did more of this work, thinking and talking about the relationship. These findings are reflected in other studies.
  • For example, research into family meals shows that women give priority to their partner’s and children’s tastes, often at the expense of their own.
  • They do their best to make the family mealtime a happy occasion.
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Grundy and Henrietta

  • Grundy and Henrietta
    • found evidence that middle aged women are becoming part of a ‘sandwich generation’ where they are sandwiched between caring for their own dependent children as well as their (or their partners’) elderly parents.
    • Grundy and Henrietta note that the society expects women to take the lead in caring for older family members and this work is often unrecognised or ‘invisible’.
    • This also links into the debate on how an aging population is affecting the family.
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Decision Making

  • Hardill et al (1997)
    • examined power in dual earner households in Nottingham using semi-structured interviews.
    • The households were classified into those where the husband’s career took precedence in making major household decisions (such as what part of the country to live in), those where the wife’s career took precedence, and those where neither career clearly took precedence over the other.
    • In 19 households the man’s career came first, in 5 households the woman’s career took precedence, and in 6 neither career was clearly prioritized.
    • It was most likely to be the man who decided where the couple were to live, and men tended to make decisions about cars.
    • However, husband and wife usually made a joint decision about buying or renting a house.
    •  Although men dominated in most households, this was not the case in a significant minority of households where there appeared to be more egalitarian relationships.
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Jan Pahl

  • Power can also be examined in terms of the control of money.
  • Jan Pahl(1989, 1993)
    • was the first British sociologist to conduct detailed studies of how couples manage their money.
    • Her study was based upon interviews with 102 couples with at least one child under 16. The sample, although small, was fairly representative of the population as a whole in terms of employment, class, housing and ownership of consumer goods.
    • However, the very rich were under-represented.
    •  Pahl’s study found four main patterns of money management and concluded that although in some households women did control the purse strings, particularly when families were dependent on state benefits, in most cases men are the main beneficiaries.
    • Where women did have most control of the finances they tended to use their control for the benefit of husbands and children, often doing without food or new clothes for themselves
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Gillian Leighton

  • Gillian Leighton (1992)
  • Discovered that the power to make decisions changed when males became unemployed. 
  • In her study of professional couples, working wives often took responsibility for bills and initiated cutbacks in spending.
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Domestic Violence

  • Despite some commentators who have attempted to blame domestic violence on the behaviour of small number of deranged men or on some alleged 'psychological need' on the part of some women, most research has analysed domestic violence as the ultimate form of control that men exercise over women in a patriarchal society. 
  •  Husbands often resort to violence as a way of regaining dominance when they feel their authority is threatened.
  • Dobash and Dobash discovered that 1/5 women experience domestic violence over their lives (their definition (operationalization) of domestic violence controversially included ‘sustained verbal attack’ which some argued led to a disproportionately high figure of domestic violence being recorded.)
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The division of labour in lesbian households

  • Gillian Dunne (1999)
  • conducted a study of the division of labour in lesbian households.
  • She examined 37 cohabiting lesbian couples who took part in in-depth, semi-structured interviews.
  • Dunne found that ‘A high level of flexibility and even-handedness characterized the allocation of employment responsibilities in partnerships.’
  • A number of the couples were responsible for the care of one or more child, making it difficult for both to work full time.
  • However, unlike most heterosexual couples, one of the partners did not usually take primary responsibility for childcare.
  • The birth mother of the child was not necessarily the main carer, and the partners often took turns to reduce their paid employment to spend more time with the children.
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The division of labour in lesbian households

  • The women were also asked to keep time-budget diaries.
  • These revealed that in most households there was a fairly equitable division of time on household tasks.
  • In 81 per cent of households neither partner did more than 60 per cent of the housework.
  • Where the division of tasks was more skewed towards one partner than the other, it was usually the case that the one who did less housework spent much longer in paid employment.
  • Many of the women felt that their sameness as women and the lack of different gender roles made it easier to share tasks equitably.

  • One of the women said, ‘I suppose because our relationship doesn’t fit into a social norm, there are no pre-set indications about how our relationship should work. We have to work it out for ourselves.’

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  • Dunne
    •  concludes that the boundaries between masculinity and femininity and the hierarchical nature of gender relationships, with men being dominant, help to produce conventional domestic divisions of labour in heterosexual households.
    • The best way to change this is to give greater value to ‘feminine’ tasks such as childcare and housework.
    • Many middle-class women have avoided the consequences of men’s lack of involvement in housework by employing other women to help with domestic tasks.
    • Their career opportunities have been gained at the expense of low-paid, exploited, working-class cleaners, nannies, childminders, and so on.
    • To Dunne, this is not an acceptable solution, since it helps to perpetuate the exploitation of women in what she sees as a patriarchal society.
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Inequality within marriage – conclusion

  • Dunne’s study of lesbian households suggests equitable domestic divisions of labour can be achieved.
  • However, it is not easy to achieve them in the context of a culture that still differentiates quite clearly between masculinity and femininity. Most of the evidence suggests women are still a long way from achieving equality within marriage in contemporary Britain.
  • They are still primarily responsible for domestic tasks and they have less power than their husbands within marriage.
  • In terms of the amount of hours spent ‘working’, though, the general picture of inequality seems to be less clear-cut.
  • Husbands of wives with full-time jobs do seem to be taking over some of the burden of housework, although the change is slow and some inequality remains.
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Theoretical explanations

  • Functionalists such as Parsons see the sexual division of labour in the home as biologically inevitable (expressive and instrumental). Young and Wilmott are also Functionalists (‘March of Progress’) who see the divisions between men and women breaking down in symmetrical families, although there is still a predisposition for women and men to take on slightly different roles within nuclear families.
  •  Marxists such as Zaretsky see the traditional division of labour in the home as part of the oppressive capitalist system, exploiting women, alienating men and dividing people into privatised families which keeps them from unifying as one community.

  • Murray, a New Right theorist, argues that society needs strong families with male heads in control.  Those who share this perspective see the traditional nuclear family being undermined by 'alternative living arrangements' that do not adequately perform the functions needed for the 'smooth running' of society or, as feminists would interpret it, the 'smooth running of a patriarchal society' which rests on the unequal treatment of women.

  • Liberal Feminists argue that women have made real progress in terms of equality within the family and particularly in education and the economy. They believe that men are adapting to change and the future is likely to bring further movement towards domestic and economic equality.

  •  Marxist-Feminists argue that the housewife role serves the needs of capitalism in that it maintains the present workforce and reproduces labour-power.

  • Radical Feminists believe that the housewife role is a role created by patriarchy and geared to the service of men and their interests.

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Current Government Policy

  • Family government policy refers to laws or policies which effect family life.

  • Governments have an impact in our families by using taxes and laws to manipulate our behavior.

  • For example, present government policy allows women to take up to a year off in maternity leave (not all paid but employers are obliged to keep the job open for women) whilst men are allowed up to two weeks.

  • This clearly effects family life since it assumes women to be the primary child carer and reinforces the traditional division of labour in parenting.

  • However, the coalition government of 2012 announced intentions to change policy in order to allow mothers and fathers to swap their parental leave after the birth of their children.

  • Parents will be allowed more flexible leave to care for their children with mothers being able to return to work earlier and transfer the time off to their partners.

  • This could indicate a move in policy towards helping make families more symmetrical.

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  • Recent social changes have raised the question of whether women really do carry a greater 'double burden' than men, having to combine paid with housework. Gershuny (1992), for argues that real changes have occurred which have , to a degree, equalized the amount of work in many households. He found that the housework done by men has been increasing and if we measure the total amount of work (paid and domestic) carried out by men and then a real process of equalization is place, though society's adaptation to working women has lagged behind. Therefore, we can also expect the younger generations to change as takes place within more egalitarian family situations. Sullivan's (2000) study of UK time-budget data supports Gershuny’s optimistic conclusion. She discovered that, since the late 1950s, women's share of domestic duties had fallen by about one-fifth across all social class groups, and the more women worked in paid employment, the lower was their time commitment to domestic tasks. What such studies suggest is that perhaps Oakley was too pessimistic about the prospects for change in household gender relations
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