Autonomy and Dependence in the Family: Turkey and Sweden in Critical Perspective

By Rita Liljeström; Elisabeth Özdalga | Go to book overview

Equality-a Contested Concept

ULLA BJÖRNBERG AND ANNA-KARIN KOLLIND

This chapter is based on an exploratory study of the principles or rules that men and women apply when they explain or give reasons for their way of organizing domestic work and their domestic economy, what equality means to them, and what they find “fair” or “unfair” in their domestic life. The findings come from an empirical study of Swedish couples-wives and husbands or cohabiting partners.

We interviewed 22 couples that shared households and had children. Women and men were interviewed separately. The couples were chosen from a random sample for a study that was undertaken in 1992. It consisted of five-year-old children, their mothers, and the man in the household, usually the biological father of the child (Björnberg 1997). A new sample was used for the qualitative interviews. All the husbands and wives were employed. Nine women worked part time, most of them working 80 per cent of full time. 1 Fifteen couples were classified as middle class and the rest (seven) as working class. Just two men and four women had more education than their spouses. Thirteen men and four women had a higher income than their partners. The couples had stayed together for at least ten years at the time of the interview. Thus, one can say that their relationships were relatively stable.

It is a well-known fact, supported by a multitude of investigations, that even in dual-earner families women do considerably more housework than men. Researchers have tried to explain the tenacity of this pattern, as well as account for the often hidden and unconscious strategies that couples use to avoid recognizing apparent incongruities between the principles of equality and lived reality.

An overarching hypothesis of ours is that “norms of reciprocity” have a significant impact on family relationships. The more family relationships are subject to de-institutionalization, while at the same time being embedded in an image of the family as a project where responsibilities, tasks, and even money are matters to be negotiated, the more family interactions are linked to such norms. Assumptions regarding reciprocity are embedded in apparent incongruities between principles of equality and lived reality

We are primarily concerned with the strategies that husbands and wives use in order to handle divergent opinions about the division of labour and money in the household. Conflicts are vital elements in everyday life among our couples, but most of them try to avoid open conflicts and fights, especially in front of the children. Our interest has been in studying the different reciprocities and

1 The full study includes three areas of distribution within the family: domestic work, including the sharing of paid and unpaid work and the sharing and managing of money; important matters regarding childrearing; and other important family decisions, such as the purchase of capital goods and personal expenses. The study addresses the way in which conflicts and different opinions on important matters are dealt with. In this paper the third area is not dealt with. The role of close kin, parents of the couple, is included in the full study.

Ulla Björnberg and Anna-Karin Kollind

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