Family and Socialization Processes: Parental Perception and Evaluation of Their Children's Household Labor

Article excerpt


The family is, among other things, a community based on everyday practices in which adults, generally the parents, are responsible for organizing the minors' environment. Spanish Civil Law, in Article 155 which is currently suspended, establishes the basic principle that all members of the family, both adults and children, should contribute to its sustenance as far as possible. This basic principle of supportive contribution to the needs of family life lays the basis for an approach to upbringing and implies a model of relations far removed from other social coexistence models.

The type and amount of said cooperation differs, depending particularly on age and on other factors, such as work or health. Today, there is no longer any doubt about the effectiveness of cooperation in the family context: "everyday domestic agreements, together with the ideas and feelings accompanying them, constitute specific forms of exploring and anchoring questions about the rights and obligations implied by membership of any social or family group" (Goodnow, 1996, 33).

This family organizational principle has been changing so that the greater the value placed on the offspring and the way parents interact with them, the less children are involved in household chores. Various studies have shown that, among all domestic tasks, childrearing practices are those which are more positively valued by both men and women (Gager, 1998; Kroska, 2003). At the same time, other studies show that, although the time employed in housework has decreased with respect to past decades, the time spent on childcare has increased. Parents enjoy spending time with their children and frequently organize their leisure time in keeping with their children's interests (Doucet, 1995; Kitterod, 2002).

In this context, we define housework as unpaid work which contributes to the well-being of the members of the family group and to the maintenance of the home. Housework can be divided into three fundamental categories:

1. Household work: includes those tasks relative to household management, housecleaning, food preparation, transportation, representation and relations outside the home, as well as home repair and maintenance.

2. Care of children and other dependent family members: includes all activities derived from the care of these, such as feeding, dressing, purchasing their clothing, taking them to doctor's appointments, administering medication, transportation and accompaniment, among others.

3. Emotional labor: makes reference to those activities which permit the improvement of affective well-being and provides emotional support to others. This assumes that said concept includes activities such as giving support, listening attentively, helping to find solutions for problems, being empathetic and so on.

Research has been carried out on the amount of time invested by children in household tasks, as well as on the type of work they most commonly do. In their review of these studies, Shelton and John (1996) conclude that while the majority of children do some domestic tasks, their participation is occasional and limited. Blair (1992), (as cited in Coltrane, 2000), confirms that in families with school-aged children, children do a mean of 5.9 hours of housework per week. Similarly, Greenstein (1996) concluded in his study that children contribute three hours per week to housework. The time invested and types of tasks undertaken by children are mediated by a broad range of factors, but their immediate social interaction context undoubtedly plays a decisive role. In this immediate social context, the ideal representations sustained by parents are key aspects in this matter.

Likewise, this participation has been found to vary according to family structure, parents' gender ideology, mother's employment status, and age and gender of children. Thus, the frequency and number of hours per week devoted to housework increases with age (Coltrane, 2000; White and Brinkerhoff, 1981; Maganto, Bartau and Etxebarria, 2003; Shelton and John, 1996). …


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