Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Gender Attitudes and Housework: Trends over Time in Australia1

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Gender Attitudes and Housework: Trends over Time in Australia1

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Since the 1980s, throughout many western societies, there has been a steady increase in women's labour force participation giving rise to a change in the modal family type from male breadwinner to dual-earner. In Australia, the proportion of couple families with dependent children in which both partners were employed increased from 45.5 percent in 1985 to 61 percent in 2010 (ABS, 1996; ABS, 2010). Previous research has established that this trend towards dual-earner families was accompanied by a trend towards more egalitarian gender attitudes (Baxter et al., 2005; Blunsdon and Reed, 2005; Ciabattali, 2001 ; Crompton et al., 2005). Although researchers examining the domestic division of labour generally find that men with egalitarian gender attitudes spend more time doing housework than men with traditional gender attitudes, there has been little evidence that, in Australia at least, the trend towards more egalitarian gender attitudes has translated into an increase in men's time spent doing housework. Many researchers argue that the division of housework into female tasks and male tasks underpins the unequal distribution of housework. The socalled female tasks (preparing meals, cleaning the house, washing and ironing) account for the bulk of all housework undertaken by households and are generally regarded as the core housework tasks (Baxter, 2002; Bianchi et al., 2000; Blair and Litcher, 1991; Casper and Bianchi, 2002; Coltrane, 2000; Robinson and Godbey, 1 997). Therefore, women spend more time doing housework because they take responsibility for the tasks that take the most time to complete.

This paper seeks to determine whether the trend towards egalitarian gender attitudes identified by previous research has been accompanied by a de-gendering of housework tasks. The link between egalitarian gender attitudes and increased housework hours formen is well established, however, the link between the trend towards more egalitarian gender attitudes over time and an increased propensity of men to undertake core housework tasks is more contentious. International research has shown that not only have men's housework hours increased over time, their time spent doing core housework tasks has increased (Bianchi et al., 2000; Bianchi et al., 2006; Gershuny et al., 1994; Hook, 2006; Robinson and Godbey, 1997; Sayer, 2005; Sullivan, 2000). AlthoughAustralian researchers have generally failed to find any evidence of an increase in the core housework hours of men (Baxter, 2002; Bittman and Pixlcy, 1997), Chcstcrs, Baxter and Western (2009) found that the total housework hours of full-time employed men in dual-earner families increased between 1986 and 2005 and that the gender gap between male and female total housework hours declined from 16.75 hours in 1986 to 9.83 hours in 2005.

THEORETICAL BACKGROUND

Much of the research into the allocation of housework tasks draws on the 'doing gender' approach (Berk 1985; West and Zimmerman 1987). Understanding how attitudes about gender roles are associated with housework hours is an important part of understanding who takes responsibility for housework. If women believe that doing housework is a central component of being a 'woman' and men believe that not doing housework is a central component of being a 'man', then it is unlikely that there will be much movement in the allocation of housework. According to West and Zimmerman (1987), the allocation of housework in couple families links the doing of housework with being a woman and the avoidance of housework with being a man. West and Zimmerman (1987: 146) argue that 'if we do gender appropriately, we simultaneously sustain, reproduce, and render legitimate the institutional arrangements that are based on sex category'. In other words, we behave in ways that society sanctions as appropriate for the gender that we want to achieve. The 'doing gender' approach posits that by behaving in the particular ways that society accepts as indicative of masculine behaviour one is seeking acceptance as a man and by behaving in the particular ways that society accepts as indicative of feminine behaviour one is seeking acceptance as a woman. …

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