Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Post-Familial Families and the Domestic Division of Labour*

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Post-Familial Families and the Domestic Division of Labour*

Article excerpt

Recent commentators have argued that the family, as we have known it, has disappeared. For example, Giddens (2001 ) has referred to a "global revolution" in how we think of ourselves and how we form ties with others. Similarly Beck-Gernsheim has written of the "post-familial family" (Beck-Gernsheim, 2002). The defining hallmark of the post-familial family according to Beck-Gemsheim is that it has become a transitional phase in people's lives. The family has not disappeared but has become a part-time commitment. The social significance of families has also changed. In place of durable sociostructural barriers and constraints traditionally set by family relationships is a new individualism in which life is a "planning project" with many new options and individual choices for lifestyle preferences and patterns. Our lives are no longer set by class, religion, tradition, family and kin relations, according to BeckGernsheim, but rather by new institutions such as the labour market, the welfare state, and the educational system (Beck-Gernsheim, 2002:44) which foster individual choice and variable life trajectories. Individuals are no longer born into a socially given situation, but must now produce their own lives in relation to the constraints and opportunities offered by these new institutions (Beck-Gernsheim, 2002:44).

On the face of it, the idea that life as a planning project has overtaken routinised movement through traditional lifecourse stages appears highly plausible. Patterns of household formation and dissolution have changed dramatically in recent decades in ways that call established institutions into question. For example, examination of demographic trends for age at first marriage, percent ever marrying, fertility patterns and divorce rates suggests that the ways in which individuals move through lifecourse transitions, as well as the nature and timing of these transitions, has undergone significant changes over the last 30 to 50 years. One of the most significant changes has been the increase in numbers of individuals choosing to cohabit in a de facto relationship at some stage in their lives. In Australia this has risen from 16 per cent to approximately 60 per cent in the last thirty years. Similarly fertility rates in Australia have fallen dramatically during this period and the divorce rate has rise% sharply. Similar patterns are evident in most advanced western nations (Bumpass and Lu, 2000; Kiernan, 2000; Raley, 2000).

But despite major changes in the timing, patterning and frequency of various lifecourse events, patterns within households appear to have undergone very little change. In particular, gender stratification within households appears relatively untouched by the changes that have taken place in patterns of household formation and dissolution. In spite of beliefs held by those active in the second wave feminist movement, women's increased participation in paid work has not led to major changes in the domestic division of labour (Coltrane, 2000; Baxter, 2002). Rather than men taking on a greater share of the load, women's increased labour force participation has been associated with women reducing their time on housework as a way of coping with the dual burden of paid and unpaid work (Western and Baxter, 2001; Baxter, 2002). Hence while Beck-Gernsheim may be correct to argue that many of the traditional patterns of family life have changed, the post-familial family continues to depend on a traditional gender division of labour.

The current paper examines these issues. The broad question motivating the paper is how changing patterns of household formation and dissolution, as well as changes in women and men's levels of involvement in paid work, have altered the domestic division of labour. Married and cohabiting women's increasing labour force participation and changing patterns of household formation and dissolution appear to indicate the kind of individualistic "life as a project" that Beck-Gernsheim's work on the post-familial family draws attention to. …

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