Academic journal article Family Relations

Division of Household Labor and Family Functioning in Off-Reservation Navajo Indian Families

Academic journal article Family Relations

Division of Household Labor and Family Functioning in Off-Reservation Navajo Indian Families

Article excerpt

Division of Household Labor and Family Functioning in Off-Reservation Navajo Indian Families*

The division of household labor and family functioning of mothers and fathers was examined in 28 off-reservation Navajo Indian families. Mothers invested significantly more time in cleaning, food, and child-related tasks than fathers, but mothers and fathers equally participated in household maintenance. In their perception of how they and their family functioned, mothers and fathers reported similar zzlevels of coping and competence, but mothers demonstrated significantly more commitment, cohesion, and communication skills than fathers. Overall, fathers showed high levels of involvement in household labor and family functioning. Findings are discussed with respect to family functioning and gender roles in 2-parent Navajo families.

Key Words: family functioning, household labor, Navajo Indian.

This article focuses on the division of household labor between fathers and mothers and their family functioning in off-reservation Navajo Indian families. Fathers' and mothers' interaction styles and the division of household labor are important variables in understanding early parent-child relationships within the family (Cochran & Brassard, 1979; Lamb, 1997). Specifically, information on cultural variations in family relations can help us expand existing conceptual views on gender roles in the family and formulate culturally sensitive policies and programs for family development. In general, studies on gender roles in American Indian families are extremely limited, and the use of pathological views has resulted in an inaccurate picture of American Indian lifestyles (LaFromboise, Heyle, & Ozer, 1999). In particular, research on Navajo Indian fathers' and mothers' family functioning and their relative involvement in household labor within the family is virtually nonexistent. Therefore, this study has two research objectives: (a) to compare the level of mothers' and fathers' participation in various household labor (i.e., cleaning, food-related, child-related, and maintenance) and (b) to describe the unique strengths and functioning mechanisms (commitment, cohesion, communication, competence, and coping) of parents in Navajo families.

Background and Conceptualization

The study of fathers' and mothers' relative participation in household labor is important because the division of labor has several consequences for the family (Shelton & John, 1996). Children of fathers involved in household labor show less gender-stereotyped behaviors and demonstrate increased cognitive competence (Radin 1981; Radin, Williams, & Coggins, 1993; Sagi, 1982). Furthermore, the division of household labor is associated with time availability (Berk & Berk, 1979; Shelton, 1992), attitudes about gender roles (Huber & Spitze, 1983), the relative economic power between husbands and wives (Ferree, 1990), and the status of marital happiness (Broman, 1988; Lye & Biblarz, 1993). Time availability is affected by the employment status of husbands and wives or the cumulative numbers of hours they spend in paid work (Coverman, 1985). For example, wives become less available to perform household labor as they spend more hours in paid employment (England & Farkas, 1986).

Traditional attitudes toward the division of household labor are shaped by cultural socialization about "appropriate" male and female roles in the family. Coverman (1985) reported that women's egalitarian views have a negative impact on men's involvement in household labor. Nonetheless, other researchers report that gender role ideology has a positive impact on men's involvement in household labor, if men hold egalitarian attitudes (Kamo, 1988; Ross, 1987; Zuo & Tang, 2000). Wives show more depression when their husbands participate less in household labor (Ross, Mirowsky, & Huber, 1983), and a balanced division of household labor and child care is related to the personal wellbeing of women (Pina & Bengston, 1993; Yogev & Brett, 1985). …

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