Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Social Change and the Gendered Division of Household Labor in Canada

Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Social Change and the Gendered Division of Household Labor in Canada

Article excerpt

HOUSEWORK'S A CHORE. It is, however, an unevenly borne chore. As documented in sociological classics, such as More than a Labour of Love, housework falls disproportionately on women (Luxton 1980 [2009]; see also Meissner et al. 1975). However, recent trends see women doing less housework and men more (e.g., Canada: Home et al. 2017; Houle, Turcotte, and Wendt 2017; United States: Bianchi et al. 2012; Australia: Chesters 2013; Cross-nationally: Kan, Sullivan, and Gershuny 2011). What remains unclear is (i) why this temporal gender convergence is occurring, (ii) whether the convergence is consistent across all forms of domestic labor including childcare, (iii) whether the changes span all social groups or are more prevalent in certain population subgroups, and (iv) what resistance these changes might be facing, if any.

In addressing these four issues we highlight the first, explanations for temporal change, while using the other three questions to adjudicate the veracity of different explanations. Evidence of gender convergence is abundant (citations above). However, theoretical explanations remain disjointed. At a theoretical level we contribute to the literature by recasting older arguments tied to exchange theory (e.g., Bittman et al. 2003; Hook 2006), time availability (e.g., Cunningham 2001), and gender role explanations (e.g., Chesters 2013) into a framework that builds on work by scholars such as Cherlin (2016) and Goldscheider, Bernhardt, and Lappegard (2015). With respect to the older arguments Sullivan, Gershuny, and Robinson (2018) note that, "no real consensus emerged as to the relative importance of these explanations" (p. 265). As we outline below, evidence about the changing patterns of time allocation in the gender division of household labor can potentially be understood as a consequence of cultural, structural, and demographic changes in society. This broader explanatory framework contextualizes gender convergence in domestic labor within current approaches to gender inequality and social change while still resonating with the more specialized, but older theoretical approaches.

In providing longitudinal evidence helpful in weighing the influence of cultural, structural, and demographic arguments, we also make several methodological contributions. First, as called for by Bianchi et al. (2012), we include a fuller set of domestic tasks, including childcare, than is often the case with longitudinal analyses (e.g., Hook 2010). Second, although the literature focuses on time allocations for domestic tasks, the data typically have a mass point at zero, where zero represents either never doing any housework or not doing housework on the survey day. We treat participation and time allocation as two separate outcome variables and use appropriate statistical models pertinent to each (see also Hook 2010). Finally we also use fully loaded, hierarchical interaction models that allow us to examine how the effect of year on time allocation is textured by gender and a set of theoretically germane explanatory measures. This directly examines issues of social change by explicitly incorporating time as the focal variable in the analysis (see below).

We frame our work within the ongoing social science debate regarding why, even in the face of impressive gains, gender inequality remains persistent or sticky (England 2010; Evans 2017; Guppy and Luongo 2016). Our specific contributions to that larger debate are twofold. First, we bring into focus the temporal social mechanisms most likely to be at work in generating conflicting patterns of persistence and progress in the gender equity revolution as it pertains to a key dimension of family life. Second, we provide detailed, longitudinal evidence on exactly how the gender division of household labor has changed for women and men in the last 30 years in Canada.

We begin by reviewing newly emerging theories about the changing patterns of gender inequality, with special attention to domestic labor (e. …

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