Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Reconsidering the Division of Household Labor: Incorporating Volunteer Work and Informal Support

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Reconsidering the Division of Household Labor: Incorporating Volunteer Work and Informal Support

Article excerpt

The gendered division of household labor is more multifaceted than the allocation of paid work and domestic work. People also engage in volunteer work and informal support. I investigate the applicability of household labor allocation theories-specifically the time constraints, economic, and "doing gender" perspectives-to all unpaid work. I analyze the 1997 Australian Time Use Survey diaries of 1,797 married couples using logistic, ordinary least squares, and seemingly unrelated regressions. Analyses show that volunteer work and support work are substantial expenditures associated with paid work and housework, but they do not create a "third shift. " Volunteer work and support work are part of the gendered household labor allocation process determined, in part, by time constraints and by gender.

Key Words: division of household labor, housework, informed support, marriage, time use, volunteering.

How households allocate paid work and domestic work is a key aspect of gender stratification. In addition to paid work and domestic work, people engage in other activities that produce goods or services. They volunteer in the community and provide informal support to nonhousehold family and friends. For example, they volunteer for public works projects or provide informal child care for a relative. These productive activities, however, have been understudied within the household context. There are compelling reasons to examine volunteering and providing informal support (referred to jointly as helping work) in the household context. Without considering the role of helping work, we have an incomplete picture of household labor allocation and thus gender stratification.

Similar to paid work and domestic work, helping work is a productive activity for households. Volunteering and providing informal support produce goods and services for recipients, neighborhoods, and communities. However, they also produce value for helpers' households in the form of social capital. According to Coleman (1988), social capital "exists in relations among persons" and produces "resources that they can use to achieve their interests" (pp. S100-S101). Helpers accrue obligations from others and gain connections to networks that can be used as information channels (Coleman) or called upon for support in times of need (O'Donnell, 1985). These resources are beneficial social capital for helpers' households. Conceptualizing helping labor as productive for households provides a reason to examine its allocation in conjunction with other productive household work.

Further, there is evidence to suggest that helping work affects couples' labor allocations and may alter our understanding of intrahousehold labor allocation. Helping can create extra housework, divert time away from housework, divert time away from paid work, or not be performed at all because of the demands of housework and paid work (Delphy & Leonard, 1992; O'Donnell, 1985). Helping work can create a third shift, especially for women (Gerstel & Gallagher, 1994). Further, our current understanding of intrahousehold labor allocation could be altered by the inclusion of helping work.

Using time diary data from 1,797 Australian couples, I examine time allocation to all productive activities at the household level. I incorporate helping work into division of household labor theories and test the leverage that these theories have on explaining couples' time allocations to the full package of productive activities. A couple's division of labor is more complex than the allocation of paid work and unpaid domestic work. Interhousehold and extrahousehold productive activities are complicating factors.


There are three distinct components of unpaid labor: volunteering, informal support, and domestic work (encompassing both housework and child care). There are important differences and similarities among these forms of unpaid labor. …

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