Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Changes in Housework after Retirement: A Panel Analysis

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Changes in Housework after Retirement: A Panel Analysis

Article excerpt

Grounded in family systems theory and based on panel data from the National Survey of Families and Households, this study shows that retirees spend more time with housework both in their own and their partner's domain than do continuously employed spouses. Moreover, husbands and wives spend less time with female chores if their partner retires. The data further reveal that the effect of changes in paid labor on housework time is contingent on the other spouse's employment as well as on gender roles and marital dependence. These findings are consistent with assumptions of interdependence among system parts and the hierarchical nature of transformation rules.

Key Words: gender roles, housework marital power, retirement.

Gainful employment constitutes an important basis for women's societal status as well as for their power in intimate relationships, yet its impact on the division of household work remains elusive. Earlier research on the effect of paid employment on spouses' housework has yielded inconsistent findings. In view of these inconsistencies, it is essential to direct research on couples' housework in new directions. Particularly important for assessment of the causal relationship between spouses' paid work and their domestic labor are longitudinal studies that explore how selected conditions moderate effects of changes in paid work on household work. Research on the transition to retirement, based on panel data from the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH), seems well suited to provide such insights.


This study addresses several limitations in past research on the relationship between employment and housework. First, the theoretical underpinnings of the employment-housework relationship are ambivalent at best. Among the prevailing theories, several (e.g., time availability, resources and power, economic efficiency) could account for the influence of paid labor on men's and women's housework time. Obviously, time spent with paid labor limits spouses' time and thus their availability for domestic labor. However, earnings and other resources derived from paid work also serve as power bases, and the distribution of time spent with domestic and paid work could reflect decisions on economic efficiency (Bergen, 1991; Coleman, 1988; Ferree, 1991; Hiller, 1982; Kamo, 1988; Shelton & John, 1996). Furthermore, gender construction may dampen the effect of spouses' employment on their housework. Employed wives seem to assert their roles as women through continued high involvement in housework, whereas unemployed husbands or husbands of employed wives may affirm their masculinity through avoidance of "women's" work in the home (Brines, 1994; Hochschild, 1989).

In addition, most studies presume (theoretically and empirically) an additive model, that is, they explore the main effects of selected variables but not their interactions. However, couples' accounts of their division of household labor demonstrate considerable complexity (Blain, 1994; Hawkins, Marshall, & Meiners, 1995; Hochschild, 1989; Major, 1993; Pyke & Coltrane, 1996; Thompson, 1991), suggesting that negotiations about housework reflect not only additive effects of selected influence variables but also their mutual influence on each other. Indeed, some recent studies show such contingencies. For example, spouses' gender-role attitudes interact in their influence on couples' division of housework as well as their evaluation of housework fairness (Greenstein, 1996a, 1996b), and gender-role attitudes condition the effect a husband's housework time has on evaluations of his supportiveness (Pina & Bengtson, 1993). There also is evidence that spouses' division of housework labor changes over time, especially in response to selected family transitions such as parenthood, children leaving home, or retirement (Coltrane & Ishii-Kuntz, 1992; McDermid, Huston, & McHale, 1990; Rexroat & Shehan, 1987; Szinovacz & Harpster, 1994). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.