Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Is Justice Contextual? Married Women's Perceptions of Fairness of the Division of Household Labor in 12 Nations

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Is Justice Contextual? Married Women's Perceptions of Fairness of the Division of Household Labor in 12 Nations

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Sociological interest in perceptions of fairness of the division of household labor has generaUy focused on how household-level gender inequality translates into perceived inequity (e.g., Baxter, 2000; Greenstein, 1996). The presumptions behind this examination have been: first, wives expect an equal, or close to equal, division of labor; and second, when the housework is not equally divided, there wiU be a greater likelihood of seeing the division of labor as unfair. Interestingly, the context within which these fairness decisions have been studied has been nearly constant. Much of the empirical work on perceptions of fairness of the division of household labor has been performed using data on the United States (for exceptions see Dempsey, 1999; Nordenmark and Nyman, 2003; Wunderink and Niehoff, 1997). It is likely that the expectation of equahty that has permeated perceptions of fairness research is a function of where the research has been performed. Much of the previous research has been performed in and on nations where there is an exphcit expectation for inequaUty in the home based on the separate spheres ideology and/or in which there is a capitalist political history. Cultural frameworks shape what is considered fair or unfair (Hui, Triandis and Yee, 1991; Morris and Leung, 2000). Social environment constructs expectations, but little is known regarding environmental mechanisms that lead to differing expectations (Gager and HohmannMarriott, 2006). For example, little is known about perceptions of fairness of the division of household labor in nations with differing cultural histories, especially with regard to separate spheres ideology and poUtical history. This research sheds light on the extent to which nation of residence shapes married women's expectations for the division of household labor and their fairness evaluations of their own division of labor.

Many of the theoretical and empirical evaluations of perceptions of fairness of the division of household labor draw upon distributive justice theory to explain how individuals, generaUy women, determine whether their household division of labor is fair (e.g., DeMaris and Longmore, 1996; Gager and Hohmann-Marriot, 2006; Greenstein, 1996). Empirical evidence generally supports the idea that comparison referents are a key factor in determining fairness. These comparison referents are standards against which individuals compare their own situation. The purpose of this paper is to examine expectations set by comparison referents within nations to determine whether this component of distributive justice theory is contextually bound. This paper focuses on historical data and operationaUzes comparison referents through three measures, each capturing a different mechanism through which expectations of the division of labor could be constructed within a nation. Specifically, . political history, women's political representation, and the proportion of households where the household labor is specialized either by the wife or the husband (as measured in 1991) provide three contextual measures for expectations of how housework should be divided, and the comparison referents married women likely used to assess the fairness of their own division of labor. As women have historically performed the majority of the household labor in developed nations, this paper focuses on understanding how women have interpreted this inequahty.

CONNECTING NATION-LEVEL CHARACTERISTICS TO INDIVIDUAL-LEVEL PERCEPTIONS OF FAIRNESS VIA DISTRmUTTVE JUSTICE THEORY

Distributive justice theory is a leading theoretical explanation for how individuals determine whether their division of labor is fair (Gager and Hohmann-Marriott, 2006; Greenstein, 1996; Thompson, 1991). The distributive justice model posits that three factors contribute to a sense of fairness: outcome values, justifications, and comparison referents (Major, 1993). Outcome values refer to what is expected and desired from a relationship. …

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