Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Attitudes toward Housework and Child Care and the Gendered Division of Labor

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Attitudes toward Housework and Child Care and the Gendered Division of Labor

Article excerpt

Research on the division of household labor has typically examined the role of time availability, relative resources, and gender ideology. We explore the gendered meaning of domestic work by examining the role of men's and women's attitudes toward household labor. Using data from the Dutch Time Competition Survey (N = 732), we find that women have more favorable attitudes toward cleaning, cooking, and child care than do men: Women enjoy it more, set higher standards for it, and feel more responsible for it. Furthermore, women's favorable and men's unfavorable attitudes are associated with women's greater contribution to household labor. Effects are stronger for housework than child care, own attitudes matter more than partner's, and men's attitudes are more influential than women's.

Key Words: child care, division of labor, family roles, housework.

One of the most consistent empirical observations in family research is that women still do most of the housework and child care (in short, household labor), even though women's participation in the labor force has increased considerably (Coltrane, 2000). This persistent gender inequality has puzzled scholars for years, leading to a stream of research.

Socioeconomic factors have been the most frequent object of study. Hours spent in paid employment presumably affect the division of household labor because the partner who has the most time available after work will do the most at home (Shelton & John, 1996). Partners' relative resources also matter: The partner with fewer economic resources (e.g., income) has little power and cannot "win" negotiations about who does household chores (Brines, 1993). Another argument is that it is more efficient for the lower resource partner to specialize in unpaid work (Becker, 1991).

Partners' hours of employment and income only partially explain the division of unpaid work, however, and some findings even contradict these explanations (Shelton, 2000). For example, when women are the breadwinners, men have been found to compensate for the loss of breadwinner status by doing less at home (Brines, 1994). Explanations focusing on gender have therefore gained popularity (Bianchi, Milkie, Sayer, & Robinson, 2000). Whereas the economic theories assume that decisions about the division of labor are gender neutral, rational, and driven by constraints rather than presumably fixed preferences (i.e., a dislike of housework), gender theories contest these assumptions and propose that household labor is intertwined with beliefs about certain behaviors being typically male or female (Berk, 1985; DeVault, 1991). For example, cleaning and doing the laundry are viewed as typically female tasks, whereas home maintenance chores are viewed as male tasks. To test for the gendered meaning of domestic work, most studies have examined the role of gender ideology (Bianchi et al.). Individuals internalize society's prevailing gender ideologies, and their views about men's and women's proper roles are therefore assumed to be gender specific, with tasks being divided accordingly (Huber & Spitze, 1981). Although egalitarian attitudes are often found to lead to greater equality, the relevant empirical evidence is not consistent, and women continue to do most of the housework, despite the contemporary egalitarian ideology (Shelton).

In the light of this weak support for the role of gender ideology, we contend that we can enhance our understanding of the gendered meaning of household labor by looking at men's and women's attitudes toward housework and child care. Contrary to people's more general views on how men and women ought to divide tasks (i.e., gender ideology), these attitudes reflect their personal feelings about performing household labor and the importance they attach to it, in other words their personal evaluations (Aj zen, 1989). If domestic work does indeed have gendered meaning, we would expect women to have more favorable attitudes toward household labor than men would. …

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