Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Effects of Family Characteristics and Time Use on Teenagers' Household Labor

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Effects of Family Characteristics and Time Use on Teenagers' Household Labor

Article excerpt

Studies suggest that children's contributions to housework are minimal. However much of this research focuses on young adolescents, utilizes data regarding adult tasks, and ignores chores children more often perform. We address these gaps by analyzing longitudinal time-use data collected from teens on the types of household chores they are most likely to perform. We examine gender inequity in teens' contributions to household labor and how it changes over high school. We also explore how teens' household contributions vary by family structure, and by teens' involvement in school and paid work. We find that girls devote more time to household tasks than boys and that this gender gap increases during high school. Teens' efforts are greater in larger families and in single parent families. Lastly. high school males spend more time on extracurricular and leisure activities than girls, who work longer hours in both unpaid and paid labor

Key Words: divorce, family, gender housework inequality, time-use.

Researchers investigating children's contributions to household work in the past 10-15 years generally seem to concur with Shelton and John (1996) that children's participation in household labor "is typically occasional and their time investment small" (p. 311). Most studies of children's household inputs, however, focus on young children or early adolescents (Bianchi & Robinson, 1997; Crouter, Manke, & McHale, 1995; Peters & Haldeman, 1987). The contribution of older teenagers, who are more capable of sharing the work at home as a result of increased maturity and skills, has received much less attention. (For an exception, see Call, Mortimer, & Shanahan, 1995.)

In addition, researchers typically have measured children's contributions to household work by surveying the time they spend on an array of chores, many of which may actually be more appropriate for adults than children. Tasks that children are more likely to assume are often omitted from consideration. These problems are evident, for example, in studies employing data from the National Survey of Families and Households (Blair, 1992a, 1992b; Demo & Acock, 1993), where the household division of labor is assessed with a list that includes "adult" tasks like paying bills and driving, but excludes such "children's" tasks as babysitting siblings and caring for pets. Therefore, the household contributions made by offspring may be underestimated.

To address these gaps in past research that may have led to underestimates of children's inputs, we focus on the household labor of teenagers as they approach adulthood. The analyses are aimed at examining longitudinally, across the high school years, the extent to which teens participate in an array of household chores-some of which may be unique to children-as well as identifying the factors that produce variability in teens' time investments.

Both individual and contextual factors have been linked to variations in children's household work. Gender is the key individual factor associated with variations in time devoted to housework for both adults (Blair & Lichter, 1991; Shelton, 1991) and children (Antil, Goodnow, Russell, & Cotton, 1996). Researchers have found that, similar to married couples, household chores among children are also sex typed. Girls spend more time on a greater number of tasks than boys (Blair, 1992b; McHale, Bartko, Crouter, & Perry-Jenkins 1990; White & Brinkerhoff, 1981). Therefore, a central issue in this analysis is to determine whether a gender gap in household labor exists for teens as well and whether that gap changes as teens approach adulthood.

Concerning contextual factors, research on children's housework has focused on a number of family structure characteristics, including maternal employment, marital status, and family size, but often in isolation (Benin & Edwards, 1990; Demo & Acock, 1993; Hilton & Haldeman, 1991; Peters & Haldeman, 1987). …

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