Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Source-Country Gender Roles and the Division of Labor within Immigrant Families

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Source-Country Gender Roles and the Division of Labor within Immigrant Families

Article excerpt

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The gendered division of labor has received significant attention from social scientists. Studies that examine the determinants of women's paid and unpaid labor activities typically center on individual- or couple-level factors, investigating how household decisions are influenced by socioeconomic circumstances or power dynamics between spouses. Other researchers focus on the influence of gender itself, arguing that men and women are socialized to assume particular gender roles within the household and subsequently practice these roles within their marriage. The extent to which these internalized notions are fixed has been debated, with some gender construction theorists arguing that gender roles are continuously negotiated through interactions and may change over time or circumstance (e.g., Connell, 1985; Ferree, 1990).

An emerging literature is examining the relationship between structural factors and the household division of labor, focusing on how national context affects women's housework across different countries. Although variations in the gendered division of labor across nations have been found, these studies are limited in their conclusions. Because social institutions are generally assumed to reflect the cultural norms and behavioral expectations of a group (e.g., Parsons, 1951), it is difficult to disentangle gender role attitudes from the national policies and institutions that may reinforce or promote a particular division of labor between couples (Coltrane, 2000).

In this article we examine whether the cultural values associated with gender roles continue to influence women's behavior after they move to a different national context, accounting for increased time in the new society. We focused on the relationships between macro-level gender roles in immigrant women's source countries, measured by the female-to-male labor activity ratio and the female-to-male secondary school enrollment ratio in their source countries, and immigrant families' household division of labor in the host country. This study contributes to the literature on immigrant integration by offering new insight into whether gender role attitudes formed in a different time and place persist at the household level over many years or if they are primarily influential during the initial phase of immigration, when families experience pronounced instability (Yu, 2011). We addressed two main questions. First, are immigrant wives from source countries with more traditional gender roles less likely to participate in the labor force and more likely to perform a large share of housework? Second, how durable are source-country gender roles (a) over increased time in the host country or (b) by husband's immigration status?


Theoretical discussions of gender inequality provide a broader understanding of how women's paid and unpaid labor activities are affected by macro-level factors. Arguing that gender stratification is fundamentally based on the degree of women's economic power, Blumberg (1984, p. 48) asserted that a "nesting" system exists, whereby micro-level processes occur within the context of a society's higher level systems. Therefore, a couple's division of labor is situated within and influenced and legitimized by their society's social institutions (Voicu, Voicu, & Strapcova, 2009).

Several sociological studies have examined the relationship between macro-level factors and the division of household labor through cross-national comparisons (e.g., Fortin, 2005; Fuwa, 2004; Gershuny & Sullivan, 2003; Kan, Sullivan, & Gershuny, 2011; Knudsen & Wærness, 2008; Ruppanner, 2010a, 2010b). In general, these studies have found that women's share of housework and labor force participation vary across nations. This variation has been linked to social policies related to women's labor force participation and child care. Women in countries with more liberal welfare regimes have been found to assume smaller shares of the housework than women in countries with more conservative policies espousing traditional gender roles (i. …

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