Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Division of Household Work between Partners: A Comparison of Black and White Couples

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Division of Household Work between Partners: A Comparison of Black and White Couples

Article excerpt

Division of Household Work Between Partners:

A Comparison of Black and White Couples*


While there is a large amount of research and knowledge on the division of household work among White couples, the division of household work in Black couples is seriously understudied. In this study, we try to fill the void by asking two questions: 1) Are Black couples more or less egalitarian than their White counterparts in division of household work? and 2) Are determinants of division of household work similar between the two races?


In the area of family decision-making, there have been some findings that Black couples are more egalitarian than their White counterparts in decision-making (McAdoo, 1993; Willie and Greenblatt, 1978) and orientations toward gender roles (Cazenave, 1983). Although there are a few findings indicating no racial difference in division of household work (Wilson et al., 1990; Huber and Spitze, 1981), the majority of articles indicates that division of household work is more egalitarian among Black couples than Whites (Ericksen et al.,1979; Maret and Finlay,1984; Ross,1987). Beckett and Smith's (1981) comparative study indicates that Black husbands were more likely to share the housework and childcare with their wives than White husbands, whether their wives were employed or not. Shelton and John (1993) also show that Black husbands, on the average, spend longer time than White husbands on household work.

If Black couples divide household labor in a more egalitarian manner, it is seen "as a way of coping with poverty, racism, and discrimination" (Broman, 1991:511). Scholars speculate that historically higher rates of labor force participation by Black women have led to more egalitarian views of gender relationships among Blacks (Beckett and Smith, 1981; Willie, 1985). Under slavery, every Black woman was a full-time worker. Cooperation in household work among the Black husband and wife seems to have been quite extensive as an adaptation to the harsh reality of slavery (Blassingame, 1979; Genovese, 1974). In his account of slave life, Genovese (1974:SOO) states:

What has usually been viewed as a debilitating female supremacy was in fact a closer approximation to a healthy sexual equality than was possible for whites and perhaps even for many postbellum blacks.

Black women have long been more likely to be employed than White women to help earn a living for the family. According to Beckett (1976), in 1970, White wives were in the labor force primarily when the husbands' income was not sufficient, but many Black wives were in the labor force regardless of the husbands' income. For Black women, being gainfully employed was the norm while this may not have been the case among White women in 1970. As a result, Beckett (1976) argues that Black men were more accommodating for their wives' needs and that their family roles were less rigid (also see Hill, 1993).

Just as different meanings of work roles between White and Black women affect division of household labor, different realities in work roles between White and Black men may affect division of household work. Under slavery, lack of resources and inability to play the provider role necessitated Black men to contribute to a great extent at home, in such work as carpentry and handy work (Blassingame, 1979), and this adaptation may have resulted in "cultural continuity" among Black families (Slaughter and McWorter, 1985). Cazenave (1984) argues that income disadvantages for contemporary Black men make it more difficult for them to establish masculine identity which is determined by the enactment of provider role, or one's earning power. As a result, many Black males may become more involved as husbands and fathers.

Although much of the research indicates that Black families are relatively more egalitarian than White families, this does not mean Black husbands and wives have attained a truly egalitarian division of household labor. …

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