Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Life Course Transitions and Housework: Marriage, Parenthood, and Time on Housework

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Life Course Transitions and Housework: Marriage, Parenthood, and Time on Housework

Article excerpt

We examine the effects of transitions in marital and parenthood status on 1,091 men's and women's housework hours using two waves of data from an Australian panel survey titled Negotiating the Life Course. We examine transitions between cohabitation and marriage, and from cohabitation or marriage to separation, as well as transitions to first and higher-order births. We find extraordinary stability in men's housework time across most transitions but considerable change for women in relation to transitions in parenthood. Our results suggest that the transition to parenthood is a critical moment in the development of an unequal gap in time spent on routine household labor.

Key Words: housework/division of labor, life course, marital status, transition to parenthood.

Time spent on household labor is not static across the life course. Although previous research suggests men's and women's time on housework varies at different life course stages, we know little about how transitions between life course stages affect housework time. There is good reason to examine this issue closely. Over the last few decades Australia has experienced major changes in life course patterns. Men and women are marrying later, having fewer children, separating more often, and spending more time in cohabiting relationships (De Vaus, 2004). The percentage of couples in Australia who are cohabiting at any one point in time has doubled between 1986 and 2003 from just below 6% to almost 13% (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2005), whereas the percentage of marriages preceded by a period of cohabitation has risen from 16% in 1975 to 75% in 2003, with approximately 40% of these proceeding on to marriage (De Vaus, 2004). These trends are similar to those in the United States (Bumpass & Lu, 2000), Canada (Bourdais & Lapierre-Adamcyk, 2004), Britain (Murphy, 2000), and other parts of Europe (Kiernan, 2002). Consequently, not only have pathways through the life course become more varied with individuals spending more time living outside the "traditional" family unit, but the resources and experiences that individuals bring to relationships have changed. A life course approach is necessary, therefore, to better understand how gendered patterns of housework time are reinforced or altered as individuals move through increasingly complex marriage and family trajectories.

Examination of these patterns has been limited because of the lack of longitudinal data on time spent on domestic labor. Most research relies on cross-sectional studies that compare individuals and households with differing characteristics (Sayer, 2005; South & Spitze, 1994). Even studies specifically examining the effect of life cycle transitions on housework have tended to use cross-sectional data (Coltrane & Ishii-Kuntz, 1992). Only a handful of studies have used longitudinal data to compare changes over time in housework hours as individuals experience life course transitions (Artis & Pavalko, 2003; Gupta, 1999; Sanchez & Thomson, 1997).

Our study contributes to this small, but growing, body of literature by examining panel data to further investigate the relationship between life course transitions and men's and women's time on housework. We make two main contributions. First, we draw on key theoretical explanations for the gendering of time on domestic labor, including an exchange bargaining perspective and a gender perspective, to develop hypotheses about change in housework time resulting from transitions in marital and parental status. Second, we extend previous longitudinal work by examining both marital and parenthood transitions in our regression models, enabling a more precise understanding of the effects of life course transitions on men's and women's time on housework. Previous longitudinal work examines one or another of these transitions, thus possibly conflating the effects of transitions in marital status and parenthood status. …

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