Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Economic Dependence, Gender, and the Division of Labor in the Home: A Replication and Extension

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Economic Dependence, Gender, and the Division of Labor in the Home: A Replication and Extension

Article excerpt

The fundamental question in the study of the gendered division of household labor has come to be why, in the face of dramatic changes in women's employment and earnings, housework remains "women's work. " As a possible answer to this question, Brines (1994) presented a provocative conceptual model of the relationship between economic dependence and the performance of housework by wives and husbands. She concluded that the link between economic dependence and housework follows rules of economic exchange for wives, but among husbands, a gender display model is operative. This paper replicates and extends Brines' model by (a) replicating her work using a different data set; (b) adding additional controls to the model, including a measure of gender ideology; and (c) modeling a distributional (as opposed to absolute) measure of housework. For a measure of hours spent doing housework, the results of my analyses are consistent with Brines' suggestion of separate gender-specific processes linking economic dependence and amount of housework performed. For a distributional measure of housework, on the other hand, my analyses contradict Brines' findings and suggest that both husbands and wives are acting to neutralize a nonnormative provider role when they do housework. Further analyses suggest that the phenomenon is more likely one of deviance neutralization than of gender display.

Key Words: division of household labor, economic dependence, housework.

The past 15 years have seen a veritable explosion of research on the gendered division of household labor. This time period has also seen dramatic increases in labor-force participation of married women, with an increasing number of wives becoming primary breadwinners in their households. Despite these changes, however, married women still do the majority of housework. In the face of these shifts from traditional gender-based economic roles, the fundamental question in this area has come to be: Why does housework remain women's work?

The consensus of the empirical literature is that the division of household labor tends to be relatively traditional. Wives perform a far greater proportion of household tasks than do their husbands in households where the wife earns more than her husband (Atkinson & Boles, 1984) and even in households where the husband is not employed (Brayfield, 1992). This combination of market and nonmarket work is likely to force married women into working what Hochschild called the "secondshift" (Hochschild, 1989).

Not only do married women perform far more household labor than their husbands; the kinds of household tasks that wives and husbands perform differ. Many researchers (for example, Blair & Lichter, 1991; Brayfield, 1992; Lennon & Rosenfield, 1994; Mederer, 1993) have noted that household labor remains highly segregated by sex. Women primarily do the tasks that traditionally have been thought of as "women's work" (e.g., cooking, laundry, housecleaning), whereas men primarily do "male" tasks (e.g., yard work, auto maintenance). Lennon and Rosenfield reported that men do about 70% of the traditionally male tasks, whereas women perform about 75% of the traditionally female tasks.

To explain these gender-based inequalities in task allocation and in task type, social scientists have developed at least four major conceptual approaches. Each of these perspectives (with the exception of the gender ideology perspective) implicitly or explicitly assumes that housework is seen as an undesirable task and that husbands and wives attempt to minimize the amount of housework they do. Each of the four approaches suggests processes or factors that affect this division of household labor.

The relative resources (or resource bargaining) approach takes an exchange-based perspective. The division of household labor is seen to result from implicit negotiation between spouses over inputs (e.g., earnings) and outcomes (e. …

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