Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Women's Housework: New Tests of Time and Money

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Women's Housework: New Tests of Time and Money

Article excerpt

In the 1990s and early 2000s, several scholars found that women who substantially out-earned their husbands performed more housework (Bittman, England, Folbre, Sayer, & Matheson, 2003 in Australia; Evertsson & Nermo, 2004 in the United States) or a greater share of housework (Greenstein, 2000 in the United States) than other women. That is, relative income had a curvilinear (quadratic) relationship with housework hours and share. This finding was interpreted as evidence of gender deviance neutralization (GDN) or compensatory gender display, essentially that "gender trumps money" in some situations (Bittman et al., 2003; Greenstein, 2000). This built on earlier work that found husbands who were long-term economically dependent retreated from housework (Brines, 1994). These findings indicate that there are conditions under which popular economic-based explanations, such as bargaining models, fail to explain the division of household labor and thus provide support for the importance of "doing gender" (West & Zimmerman, 1987).

Later work, however, casts doubt on this finding. Gupta (2007) examined the importance of women's absolute income versus her relative income, finding that absolute income was a better predictor of housework and finding no evidence of GDN. He argued for an autonomy, or "her money, her time," model (see also Gupta, 2006; Gupta & Ash, 2008). Building on this work, Killewald and Gough (2010) argued that absolute income had diminishing returns as the easiest and cheapest tasks to outsource or forgo would be jettisoned as income rose, but housework would plateau as women found it more difficult to find acceptable substitutes. They found support for this hypothesis and that when accounting for the relationship between income and housework with splines, the quadratic relationship between housework and relative earnings disappeared. Once Greenstein's (2000) and Evertsson and Nermo's (2004) findings with National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH) and Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) data were revisited by Gupta (2007) and Killewald and Gough (2010), respectively, there was no compelling evidence of gender display for U.S. women. A review by Sullivan (20l1) largely concluded that the debate was over.

Prior research using the NSFH and PSID, however, is limited in two key respects. First, the NSFH and the PSID ask respondents to estimate how much time they spend on housework per week. The NSFH gauges time in specific tasks such as cooking, washing dishes, cleaning, and laundry, whereas the PSID does not impose a specific definition of housework. Beyond the difficulty of accurately estimating how much time you spend on housework during a week, Kan (2008b) argued that evidence of neutralizing gender deviance may simply reflect social desirability bias. That is, "gender deviants" do not perform more or less housework than others; they simply report in ways that are consistent with neutralizing deviance. She found support for this hypothesis among men with gender traditional attitudes; they perform more housework, according to their time diary records, than they report in an accompanying survey. Unfortunately, Kan (2008b) did not investigate women's housework reporting by relative earnings. Second, the GDN hypothesis concerns the right tail of the distribution. Previous research indicates that the upward curve in women's housework corresponds to when women earn approximately 70% to 75% of couple earnings (Evertsson & Nermo, 2004, see their Figure 3; Greenstein, 2000, see that Figure 4; Schneider, 2011, see that Figure 1), which corresponds to about the 90th percentile among dual earners. Thus, sample size is important. Previous studies using the NSFH and the PSID have analyzed around 2,000 couples (Evertsson & Nermo, 2004; Gupta, 2007). Thus, only about 200 women are in the tail as measured by the 90th percentile.

Given these limitations, recent evidence of GDN using the American Time Use Study (ATUS) is compelling. …

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