Husbands' Participation in Domestic Labor: Interactive Effects of Wives' and Husbands' Gender Ideologies

By Greenstein, Theodore N. | Journal of Marriage and Family, August 1996 | Go to article overview

Husbands' Participation in Domestic Labor: Interactive Effects of Wives' and Husbands' Gender Ideologies


Greenstein, Theodore N., Journal of Marriage and Family


The literature suggests that gender ideology-how a person identifies herself or himself in terms of marital and family roles traditionally linked to gender-is related to the division of labor in the home. In this article I assert that it is not sufficient to merely examine the main effects of wives' and husbands' gender ideologies. Rather, it is essential to consider the interaction between the ideologies of wives and their husbands in order to understand how a division of household labor emerges. I hypothesize that a husband's gender ideology will not be related to the division of household labor for men married to traditional wives, but that it will be for men with egalitarian wives. An empirical test using data provided by 2,719 married couples from the National Survey of Families and Households confirms this hypothesis. Even after controlling for measures of market- and marital-specific capital, wives' and husbands' gender ideologies interact in terms of their effects on the division of household labor. Husbands do relatively little domestic labor unless both they and their wives are relatively egalitarian in their beliefs about gender and marital roles.

Gender-based inequality in the division of household labor has become a key issue for scholars of marriage and the family. One of the more intriguing findings in this literature has been the relative insensitivity of the division of household labor to recent increases in women's labor force participation. Even though married mothers are more than twice as likely to be employed full-time today as in 1970, the division of household labor seems to have changed hardly at all: Married men still do relatively little domestic labor.

Although it appears that husbands of employed women contribute more hours of household work than do husbands of nonemployed women, these differences tend to be relatively small. Demo and Acock (1993), for example, found that although husbands of employed wives contribute on average 4.3 more hours per week to chores than do husbands of nonemployed wives, the division of household labor remains strikingly unequal: Employed wives' proportion of total hours spent on household chores is still about 72%, compared with about 81% for nonemployed wives.

The consensus of the empirical literature is that the division of household labor tends to be relatively traditional-that is, the wife performs a far greater proportion of household tasks than does her husband-in households where the wife earns more than her husband (Atkinson & Boles, 1984) and even in households where the husband is not employed (Brayfield, 1992). This combination of market and nonmarket work is likely to force married women into working what Hochschild calls the "second-shift" (Hochschild, 1989b).

Not only do married women perform far more household labor than their husbands, but the kinds of household tasks performed by wives and husbands differ. Many researchers (for example, Blair & Lichter, 1991; Brayfield, 1992; Lennon & Rosenfeld, 1994; Mederer, 1993) note that household labor remains highly segregated by sex. Those tasks that have been traditionally thought of as "women's work" (for example, cooking, laundry, housecleaning) are performed primarily by women, and "male" tasks such as yard work and auto maintenance are done primarily by men. Lennon and Rosenfeld report that men do about 70% of the traditionally male tasks, and women perform about 75% of the traditionally female tasks.

To explain these inequalities in task allocation and in task type, social scientists have developed at least four major conceptual approaches. The relative resources (or resource bargaining) approach takes an exchange-based perspective. The division of household labor is seen to result from implicit negotiation between spouses over inputs (e.g., earnings) and outcomes (e.g., who does the housework) in the household. In general, the research literature supports this perspective (see, for example, Blair & Lichter, 1991; Ferree, 1991; Kamo, 1988). …

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