Academic journal article Population

End of the Conjugal Relationship, Gender and Domestic Tasks in Switzerland

Academic journal article Population

End of the Conjugal Relationship, Gender and Domestic Tasks in Switzerland

Article excerpt

Today, conjugal unions are dissolved more frequently than in earlier times. Around one in two marriages fails, compared with just one in ten in Switzerland in the 1970s (Flaugergues de, 2009, p. 10). Since 1980, the number of divorced persons has tripled.(1) The proportion of children under 25 living in singleparent households has also substantially increased, rising from 7.9% in 1980 to 13.7% in 2008 (Flaugergues de, 2009, p. 6). Given the increase in life expectancy, the number of widows is also increasing steadily.(2)

How does union dissolution (following separation or death) affect women's and men's performance of domestic tasks? Currently available statistical studies focus almost exclusively on the consequences of couple and family formation on the partners' investment in housework. Longitudinal studies, which track particular individuals over the course of a number of years, show that the time spent by women on housework tends to increase progressively with entry into union and the arrival of children, whereas the time spent by men remains stable, or even decreases slightly - regardless of the context in which these observations are collected (Baxter et al., 2008; Gupta, 1999; Henchoz and Wernli, 2010). Are the growing inequalities between men and women through the various stages of family life irremediable or reversible? The time that women devote to housework increases over the conjugal cycle, but is a corresponding reduction in time spent observed at the end of the relationship? And what about for men?

To ask these questions is to address the issue of equality from another point of view. Thus far, the division of housework has been viewed as a useful indicator of equality within the couple (Coltrane, 2000). We know that conjugal life has an impact on equality between partners, notably in terms of investment in housework, but it is not known whether this impact is temporary. If this is not the case, as certain studies on parental organization after a divorce seem to suggest,(3) this would mean that household cost/benefit effects of conjugal union extend beyond its end. Given the findings discussed above, this would mean that the mere fact of having cohabited with a partner "penalizes" women and "favours" men. If, at the end of the union, women's investment in housework remains as high as it was when they were in the relationship, this implies that for an equivalent family and professional situation, women have less available free time and lesser opportunities to reconcile professional and private life or to organize their schedule than men who have undergone the same transition.

The longitudinal analysis of the Swiss Household Panel (SHP)(4) is particularly well-suited to exploring the short-term impact of union dissolution on the hours spent by men and women on household tasks. Although their scope is often limited by the small number of observations (Baxter et al., 2008), longitudinal analyses offer the advantage of following individuals through time and are better adapted to measuring the impact of an event on behaviour than cross-sectional analyses of different households.

I. Household tasks

What are the domestic activities studied here? Their definition will shape the literature review, as results can be very different depending on whether the comparison encompasses time devoted to children (games, child care and education), DIY or dishwashing. The analysis offered here bears on the "central core" of domestic tasks: cooking, dishwashing, cleaning and laundry(5) (Ponthieux and Schreiber, 2006, p. 47). Along with the purchase of goods and services, these are the most time-consuming, routine and demanding domestic tasks, because they cannot be put offuntil later (Coltrane, 2000, p. 1210). They are generally considered to be tiresome by both men and women. Consequently, this is the type of domestic work that causes the most dissatisfaction (Brousse, 1999). In Switzerland, as elsewhere, these tasks are accomplished mainly by women (Branger, 2008; Brousse, 1999; Ponthieux and Schreiber, 2006; Schön- Bühlmann, 2006a). …

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