Topic 1 - Couples

The Domestic Division Of Labour

The impact of paid work

Resources and decision-making in households

Domestic violence


The domestic division of labour - Parsons: instrum

In the traditional nuclear family, the roles of husbands and wives are segregates. Parsons (1955) fuctionalist model of the family there is a clear divison of labour between spouses: 

  • The husband has and instrumental role, geared towards achieving success at work so that he can provide for the family financially. He is the breadwinner
  • The wife has and expressive role geared towards primary socialisation of the children and meeting the families emotional needs. She is the homemaker.

Parsons argues that this division of labour is based on biological differences. He claims that this is beneficial to both men and women, to their children and a wider society. Some conservative thinkers and politicians, known as the New Right also hold this view. 

Some sociologists have criticised Parsons: 

  • Willmott and Young (1962) argue that men are now taking a greater share of domestic tasks and wives are becoming wage earners. 
  • Feminists reject Parsons' view that the division of labour is natural. They argue that it only benefits men. 
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The domestic division of labour - Joint and segreg

Bott (1957) distinguishes between two types of conjugal roles; that is, roles withing marriage: 

  • Segregated conjugal roles, where couples have seperate roles (Parsons' instrumental and expressive roles). Their leisure activities tend to be seperate. 
  • Joint conjugal roles, where the couple share tasks such as housework and childcare and spend their leisure time together. 
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The domestic division of labour - The symmetrical

Willmott and Young take a march of progress view of the history of the family. They see family as gradually improving for all it's members. 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 child care and house work
  • Couples now spend their leisure time together. They are more home-centred or privatised. 

The symmetrical family is more common amongst younger couples according to WIllmott and Young. They explain that the rise of the symmetrical nuclear family as a result of major changes that have taken place during the past century:

  • Changes in women's position, including married women going out to work. 
  • Geographical mobility - more couples living away from the communities in which they grew up 
  • New technology and labour-saving devices
  • Higher standards of living
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The domestic division of labour - A feminist view

Feminists reject the march of progress view. They argue that little has changed: men and women remain unequal within the family. They believe this to have stemmed from the fact that society is male-dominated or patriarchal. 

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