Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Dependence within Families and the Division of Labor: Comparing Sweden and the United States

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Dependence within Families and the Division of Labor: Comparing Sweden and the United States

Article excerpt

This article assesses the relative explanatory value of the resource-bargaining perspective and the doing-gender approach for the division of housework in the United States and Sweden from the mid-1970s to 2000. The data used are the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) and the Swedish Level of Living Survey. Overall results show that housework was truly gendered work in both countries during the entire period. Even so, the results indicate that, unlike Swedish women, U.S. women seem to increase their time spent in housework when their husbands are to some extent economically dependent on them, as if to neutralize the presumed gender deviance on the part of their spouses.

Key Words: bargaining, economic dependency, gender, housework, relative resources.

It is evident that the strict gendered division of labor between paid market work and unpaid housework has decreased over the past three or four decades in almost all Western countries. Despite this, women still do the lion's share of all housework (e.g., for the United States, see Bianchi, Milkie, Sayer, & Robinson, 2000; for Sweden, see Bygren, Gähler, & Nermo, 2004; Evertsson, 2001). Thus far, most research in this field has used national data, which means that we have little knowledge about cross-national variation in the gender division of unpaid labor and its determinants (see, however, Baxter, 1997; Calasanti & Bailey, 1991; Kalleberg & Rosenfeld, 1990). Further, to our knowledge, no earlier studies have focused on the relative value of theories in explaining this division of work across countries at different points in time.

The overall purpose of this article is to study the explanatory value of two theoretical frameworks, the relative resource-bargaining perspective and the doing-gender approach, for the division of housework in the United States and Sweden from the mid-1970s until the end of the 20th century. On one hand, according to the relative resource-bargaining perspective, the spouses' division of housework is determined by the relative resources (e.g., wage income and human capital) that each spouse possesses. The spouse with the greater resources is most likely to negotiate away all or parts of the housework. A doing-gender approach, on the other hand, suggests that housework functions as an area within which gender is symbolically created. Hence, according to this approach, gender is a more important factor in predicting the division of housework than are any resources. The two approaches are discussed in more detail below. Before we proceed, however, we will define a few central concepts. Economic dependence is used as a relative resource in our analyses and is an indicator of the individual's contribution to the couple's income from earnings (Sørensen & McLanahan, 1987). Gender display is a term originally coined by Goffman (1976). Here, however, we concentrate on the way in which Brines (1994) used the term. She argued that economically dependent husbands display gender when they respond to their dependency on their wives by avoiding housework in order to reclaim their constitutive masculinity. Greenstein (2000) argued that both women and men take part in gender deviance neutralizing behavior; that is, they exaggerate behaviors that contradict a deviant economic identity (e.g., breadwinner wife and supported husband). In these unconventional families, women do more housework than predicted by their labor market work hours and relative resource models, whereas men do less.

The reason for choosing the United States and Sweden as the two countries of our study is that they both follow the above-noted trend regarding the overall development of men's and women's housework. They are also recognized as having high rates of female labor force participation (e.g., Spain & Bianchi, 1996). Even so, policies and incentives for women's labor force participation differ considerably between them, as do public attitudes toward gender equality. …

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