European Journal of Ageing

, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 137–145

Older adults in the division of domestic labor in communities on the outskirts of Beirut

Authors

    • Faculty of Health SciencesAmerican University of Beirut
  • Ayman Zohry
    • Faculty of Health SciencesAmerican University of Beirut
  • Iman Nuwayhid
    • Faculty of Health SciencesAmerican University of Beirut
  • Faten Najdi
    • Faculty of Health SciencesAmerican University of Beirut
Original Investigation

DOI: 10.1007/s10433-006-0031-3

Cite this article as:
Habib, R.R., Zohry, A., Nuwayhid, I. et al. Eur J Ageing (2006) 3: 137. doi:10.1007/s10433-006-0031-3

Abstract

The gendered division of domestic labor has been widely studied over the last three decades. However, older adults’ contribution to housework, especially in patriarchal communities in the Middle East, has been largely overlooked. This article examined the participation of older members of the household in domestic labor in three communities in the outskirts of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. Drawing on a sample of 2,797 households, the results revealed that three salient factors seemed to have the major impact on older adults’ participation in domestic labor; these were the presence of adult women (18–59 years old) in the household, the marital status and age of older adults. Older men’s participation in domestic labor was much lower than that of older women, suggesting that a gender divide exists among older adults in the patriarchal setting of the study. Housework remains feminized in the later stage of life.

Keywords

Older adultsDomestic laborHouseworkPatriarchyBeirutLebanon

Introduction

The gender theory on the division of domestic labor among household members has been widely argued by scholars (Demo and Acock 1993; Shelton and John 1996; Twiggs et al. 1999; Bianchi et al. 2000; Coltrane 2000; Evertsson and Nermo 2004; Erickson 2005; Essex and Hong 2005). It stipulates that gender dictates adults’ contribution to domestic labor, whereby women perform most of the work in the household while men have the primary responsibility for earning in paid labor. Although men’s participation in domestic labor has increased in recent years, household work is still seen as a “female-normative” and paid labor as a “male-normative” (Demo and Acock 1993; Shelton and John 1996; Twiggs et al. 1999; Bianchi et al. 2000; Coltrane 2000; Evertsson and Nermo 2004; Cast and Bird 2005). Hence, gender-based inequality has been ascribed a great impact on the division of domestic labor among household members (Greenstein 1996; Coltrane 2000; Essex and Hong 2005).

Research in Western societies showed an increasing awareness of egalitarianism in aging couples which, to a certain extent, narrows the gap between women’s and men’s share of domestic labor (Dorfman 1992, 2003; Vinick and Ekerdt 1992; Ward 1993; Szinovacz 2000). As people become older, their goals and expectations change and they become less interested in their work roles since they are retired; they seek companionship and rely more on their spouse, and are usually more driven by affective bonds (Zube 1982). They are also more likely to stay at home where most of their daily activities are performed (Oswald 1998; Baltes et al. 1990). It has been suggested that this transformation in older adulthood has lead to more household equity and sharing (Zube 1982; Ward 1993). Therefore men assume a ‘helping role’ and women play an increased managerial role whereby they exert power and self-confidence given that they are better versed in performing household tasks (Zube 1982).

On the other hand, it has been proposed that the gendered division of domestic labor persists after retirement age; and the primary responsibility for housework remains a female normative among the older population (Robinson and Spitze 1992; Ghysels 2000; Essex and Hong 2005).

In general, research on the division of domestic labor has mainly focused on adult couples of working age. The division of housework among older adults has not been given as much attention. Older adults have been mainly studied as people who require care rather than as active contributors to domestic labor (Finley 1989; Soldo and Wolf 1994; Walker et al. 1995; Couch et al. 1999). This dearth of research on older adults’ involvement in domestic labor especially pertains to non-Western patriarchal societies where patriarchy is based on gender and age hierarchy. In these societies, men, the breadwinners, and older adults have authority or power over women, the homemakers, and younger adults (Joseph 1993, 1996).

Our research examined the participation of older adults in domestic labor in three urban communities in the outskirts of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. It is unique in addressing the salient factors, in particular gender, that contribute to the participation of older adults in domestic labor in patriarchal communities of the Middle East.

Methods

Setting

The study was carried out by the Faculty of Health Sciences at the American University of Beirut in Hay el Sellom, Nabaa and Burj Barajneh camp in the outskirts of metropolitan Beirut in 2002. The three communities are characterized by poor housing conditions and a rural–urban influx. A large proportion of the study population was displaced during the Lebanese civil war (1975–1990) and is relatively poor with an average yearly income of around US$ 5,460 compared to a national average of US$ 12,300 according to the latest figure published by the Lebanese Central Administration of Statistics (CAS 1998). Unlike what is usually observed in more affluent Lebanese households, employing domestic helpers is a rare practice in the study communities, considering the relatively poor economic conditions. Therefore, the division of domestic labor is a family issue in our sample.

Sample

A cross-sectional survey based on a two-stage probability sample was carried out. Interviews using a structured household questionnaire were carried out with a proxy respondent in 2,797 households where 12,788 subjects resided. An adult (or older adult) member in each household was interviewed to obtain information on all household members. As the study sample was large, we relied on a proxy respondent for feasibility purposes; the interviewers were instructed to interview one of the available adult (or older adult) members of the household with whom communication was feasible. The head of the household or his/her spouse was the proxy respondent in 87% of the households. The overall response rate was 88.3%. The University Institutional Research Board approved the study. All respondents were informed of the objective of the study and oral consent was obtained.

The sample in this article was limited to individuals aged 60+ years at the time of the data collection. A total of 980 individuals, residing in 744 households, were eligible for inclusion in the study; they represented 7.7% of the overall study population. Three cases were excluded due to missing data, and a total of 977 individuals were included in the analysis.

More than 50% of older adults in the study sample reside in Nabaa. The age pattern for older men and women is almost the same with almost two-third of the male population clustering in the first two age groups (60–64 and 65–69) versus 59% of women. The majority (78.9%) of older adults reside in households with 2–6 members while only 13.2% live in households with 7 members or more. The percent of older women who live alone is higher than that of older men (11.2 vs. 4%); this may be partially attributed to the age gap between spouses and the longer life expectancy for women compared to men. Most of the households with older adult members have one older adult. While 88.3% of older men are married, the percentage drops to 44.6 for older women; on the other hand, 48% of older women are widowed and the percentage drops to 9.7 for older men. The marital status of the older adults reflects the age gap between spouses where one can expect high percentage of widowed women and high percentage of married men. Also, older men re-marry more than older women.

The majority of older adults had no education; illiteracy was high in this population. In general older women were less educated, and were less involved in paid work the week prior to the survey than older men (5.2 vs. 28.6%).

More than two thirds of older adults had one or more chronic diseases; the presence was higher among older women than older men (77.2 vs. 62.8). In contrast, the presence of disability was low (5.5%), and older men had higher rates of disability than older women (7.3 vs. 4%). Some 35% of older adults lived in households with no adult women (27.9% older men and 41.1% older women). With respect to their position as head of household, 89.6% of older men were head of their household versus only 33% older women (see Table 1).
Table 1

Socio-demographic characteristics of older adults by sex, Urban Health Survey 2002

 

Sex

Total (n = 977)

Men (n = 452)

Women (n = 525)

N

%

N

%

N

%

Age group

 60–64

171

37.8

176

33.5

347

35.5

 65–69

122

27.0

134

25.5

256

26.2

 70–74

76

16.8

109

20.8

185

18.9

 75–79

49

10.8

63

12.0

112

11.5

 80+

34

7.5

43

8.2

77

7.9

Marital status

 Single

7

1.5

26

5.0

33

3.4

 Married

399

88.3

234

44.6

633

64.8

 Widowed

44

9.7

252

48.0

296

30.3

 Divorced/separated

2

0.4

13

2.5

15

1.5

Educational level

 None

300

69.0

462

89.5

762

80.1

 Elementary

97

22.3

46

8.9

143

15.0

 Inter/vocational

20

4.6

6

1.2

26

2.7

 Secondary+

18

4.1

2

0.4

20

2.1

Literacy (read & write)

293

64.8

119

22.7

412

42.2

Paid work last week

129

28.6

27

5.2

156

16.0

Head of household

405

89.6

173

33.0

578

59.2

Proxy respondent

118

26.1

256

48.8

374

38.3

Presence of chronic disease

282

62.8

404

77.2

686

70.6

Presence of disability

33

7.3

21

4.0

54

5.5

Number of household members

 1

18

4.0

59

11.2

77

7.9

 2–6

368

81.4

403

76.8

771

78.9

 7+

66

14.6

63

12.0

129

13.2

Number of older adults per household

 1

226

50.0

288

54.9

514

52.6

 2

223

49.3

231

44.0

454

46.5

 3

3

0.7

6

1.1

9

0.9

Number of adult women (18–59 years) per household

 0

126

27.9

216

41.1

342

35.0

 1

173

38.3

205

39.0

378

38.7

 2

96

21.2

77

14.7

173

17.7

 3–5

57

12.6

27

5.1

84

8.6

Community

 Hay el Sellom

83

18.4

85

16.2

168

17.2

 Nabaa

235

52.0

283

53.9

518

53.0

 Burj Barajneh camp

134

29.6

157

29.9

291

29.8

Measures

Data on household members included information on socio-demographic characteristics, health status, and participation in domestic labor.

Measures of socio-demographic variables

The variables of interest were age, gender, marital status, educational level, economic activity, community or place of residence (Hay el Sellom, Nabaa, and Burj Barajneh Camp), headship of household (yes/no), number of adult women (18–59 years old) in the household (zero, one, and two or more), number of older adults in the household (one vs. two or three) presence of disability, and presence of chronic disease (see Table 1).

June 1st, 2002 was used as the reference date to calculate the age of all individuals in the study. Older adults were classified as members aged 60 and above and categorized into 5-year-age groups. Marital status was classified as single, married, widowed, and divorced/separated. Completed years of education for the older adults were also classified into four categories: none, elementary, intermediate/vocational and secondary and above. Literacy was selected to represent educational background since the educational attainment of this group was very low. We measured economic activity of household members by asking standard questions about labor force participation (in or out of labor force) as recommended by the international labor organization (ILO 1983). For every member of the household aged 15 years or older, we asked if he/she worked for a wage (cash or in-kind) in part-time or full-time work for 1 h or more in the previous week. Using a checklist, the proxy respondent reported on all types of disability and chronic illness among household members.

Measures of domestic labor

Similar to what has been published in previous studies, domestic labor was measured in terms of type of tasks traditionally performed by men and women (Twiggs et al. 1999; Coltrane 2000; Greenstein 2000). A proxy respondent was asked to assess the contribution of all household members, aged 5 years and above, to domestic labor during a normal week (Habib et al. 2005). Domestic labor was divided into five main categories, these were: (1) core household tasks, (2) financial management, (3) home management, (4) home maintenance, and (5) care giving (Habib et al. 2006). The core household tasks included specific chores that dealt with cleaning (rooms, kitchen, bathroom), food preparation/cooking, washing clothes, and ironing. Financial management tasks included managing payments (bills and debts) and household expenses. Home management included the responsibility for purchasing service water, drinking water, heating supplies, and purchasing home needs and personal items. Home repair, car maintenance and car washing (if applicable) were grouped under the home maintenance category. And last, care giving tasks included caring for children (0–14 years), disabled, and sick members of the household; transport-related tasks (dropping off/picking up and accompanying members of the household); and school related tasks (minding school issues and assisting with homework) (see Table 2). Similar tasks have been used in a number of other studies on domestic labor (Coltrane 2000; Erickson 2005). Tasks related to provision of care for older adults were excluded from the analysis since nearly 70% of households (514) in our study sample had only one older member residing in the household.
Table 2

Weights of household tasks, Urban Health Survey 2002

 

Weight

Maximum scores

Core household tasks

48.0

 Cleaning rooms

8

 

 Cleaning kitchen

8

 

 Cleaning bathrooms

8

 

 Laundry—washing clothes

4

 

 Laundry—ironing

4

 

 Meals—washing dishes

8

 

 Meals—food preparation

8

 

Care giving

42.5

 Care for children

8

 

 Care for disabled

8

 

 Care for sick members

8

 

 Transport—dropping off, picking up members

8

 

 Transport—accompanying other members

2

 

 School—minding school issues

0.5

 

 School—assisting with homework

8

 

Financial management

2.5

 Payment of bills and debts

0.5

 

 Managing household expenses

2

 

Home management

9.0

 Shopping for home needs

4

 

 Buying service water

2

 

 Buying drinking water

2

 

 Buying heating supply

0.5

 

 Purchasing personal items

0.5

 

Maintenance

1.5

 Household repair

0.5

 

 Car maintenance

0.5

 

 Car wash

0.5

 

Total

103.5

Contribution to household tasks was measured using a four-point Likert scale: 0 = never, 1 = sometimes, 2 = most of the time and 3 = always. The frequency distribution of the sample indicated that the largest proportion of responses were in the first and the last categories (never or always). Therefore, responses were summarized in a binary outcome with ‘always and most of the times’ = 1 and ‘never and sometimes’ = 0. A composite index that summarized the level of involvement in household tasks was developed. A simple mathematical addition was used to calculate this index by summing up individual responses (0, 1). The minimum possible value of this index is zero for those who did not contribute to any household task, while the maximum possible value is 24 for those who were involved in all tasks. However, a simple summation of all individual household tasks ignores the frequency of performing these tasks which varies with task and culture. For instance, while cleaning chores are usually performed on a daily basis, payment of bills is a monthly activity in the Lebanese context. Therefore, household tasks were given weights based on the usual frequency a task is performed. The relative value of the weight given for each task was determined by a rapid interview in some households that were randomly selected in the study communities (see Table 2 for a full list of variables and their associated weights). Weighted value of involvement in each task was computed by multiplying the involvement in the task by its weight. For example, if cleaning of bathrooms is always performed by an individual (i.e. it is allocated a number three on the scale of involvement), then three is multiplied by eight (since cleaning of bathrooms is a task done four or more times a week) to give 24 a weighted value of involvement. A mean weighted value of involvement was computed for each of the five categories of household tasks by summing up the weighted value of involvement in all tasks in each category. An overall composite score (ie., the dependent variable) was computed by summing up all 24 tasks across the five categories with a minimum of zero and a maximum of 103.5 (see Table 2).

Statistical analysis

The analysis was four fold using the statistical package for social science (SPSS) Version 11.00 (SPSS 2003). First, descriptive statistics and bivariate analysis were used to explore the participation of older adults in household labor, and study the extent to which the gender theory of division of labor explained older adults’ participation in housework. Second, the mean weighted value of older adult’s involvement for each of the categories of household tasks, and the composite index for all household tasks were analysed by gender in five age groups (60–64, 65–69, 70–74, 75–79 and 80+) (see Table 3). Third, we studied the mean weighted value of involvement in household tasks by several personal and household factors, known to influence participation in housework, such as marital status, number of household members, involvement in paid work, presence of chronic disease and others (see Table 4). The association between the overall housework involvement, measured by the composite index, and the independent variables was assessed using two linear regression models, one for men and one for women, since the effect of these factors varies by gender (see Table 5). The size of the household was correlated with the number of adult women in the household, and hence was excluded from the two linear models. The statistical significance was set at P < 0.05.
Table 3

Mean weighted value of older adults’ involvement in household tasks by age group and sex, Urban Health Survey 2002

 

Maximum possible

Age group

Total

60–64

65–69

70–74

75–79

80+

Core household tasks

 Men

48

1.66

1.57

2.11

1.31

4.59

1.89

 Women

48

32.02

27.37

21.39

14.03

10.42

24.70

Care giving

 Men

42.5

9.20

7.55

8.66

7.63

6.35

8.28

 Women

42.5

9.48

8.24

7.30

5.75

4.70

7.87

Financial management

 Men

2.5

0.87

0.70

0.68

0.85

0.69

0.78

 Women

2.5

1.68

1.27

1.11

0.94

0.81

1.30

Home management

 Men

9

1.91

1.48

1.89

2.08

1.16

1.75

 Women

9

3.62

2.54

2.42

1.52

1.12

2.64

Maintenance

 Men

1.5

0.34

0.24

0.17

0.14

0.04

0.24

 Women

1.5

0.06

0.01

0.04

0.01

0.02

0.03

Composite indexa

 Men

103.5

13.98

11.54

13.51

12.01

12.84

12.94

 Women

103.5

46.86

39.44

32.27

22.24

17.07

36.54

Total number

 Men

 

171

122

76

49

34

452

 Women

 

176

134

109

63

43

525

a Summation of the five categories of household tasks

Table 4

Mean weighted value of older adults’ involvement in household tasks by selected variables and sex, Urban Health Survey 2002

 

Sex

Men

Women

Marital status

 Single

14.9

35.5

 Married

12.3

44.7

 Widowed

19.3

29.1

 Divorced/separated

3.5

35.2

Educational level

 None

11.9

36.0

 Elementary

14.4

44.6

 Inter/vocational

17.8

46.5

 Secondary+

20.1

63.3

Literacy

 Illiterate

11.2

35.4

 Literate (read & write)

13.9

40.5

Paid work last week

 Yes

14.1

39.1

 No

12.5

36.3

Head of household

 Not a head

6.8

36.3

 Head

13.7

37.1

Presence of chronic disease

 Yes

12.5

34.7

 No

13.5

42.8

Presence of disability

 Yes

7.5

25.3

 No

13.4

37.0

Number of household members

 1

25.8

44.3

 2–6

12.5

37.4

 7+

11.9

23.6

Number of older adults per household

 1

14.1

31.3

 2

11.9

43.7

 3

5.0

14.3

Number of adult women (18–59 years) per household

 0

15.8

49.4

 1

12.6

27.4

 2

11.0

32.8

 3–5

10.8

13.7

Community

 Hay el Sellom

15.9

32.9

 Nabaa

12.8

40.9

 Burj Barajneh camp

11.4

30.6

Table 5

Linear regression models for composite index of participation in domestic labor by sex, Urban Health Survey 2002

Independent variables

Coefficients

Men

Women

Standardized coefficient (β)

Standardized coefficient (β)

Age (60–64 years)

 65–69 years

−0.065

−0.124**

 70–74 years

−0.024

−0.171***

 75–79 years

−0.034

−0.262***

 80+

 

−0.235***

Marital status (Not Married)

 Currently Married

−0.180**

0.330***

Literacy (Illiterate)

 Literate

0.108*

−0.049

Paid work last week (No)

 Yes

0.030

−0.014

Head of household (No)

 Head

0.173***

0.109*

Presence of disability (No)

 Yes

−0.092*

−0.047

Presence of chronic disease (No)

 Yes

−0.009

−0.107**

Number of older adults (1)

 Number of older adults (2–3)

−0.080

−0.125

Adult woman (Zero)

 Number of adult women (1)

−0.162**

−0.384***

 Number of adult women (2+)

−0.242***

−0.325***

Community (BBC)

 Nabaa

0.085

0.223***

 Hayessullum

0.210***

0.073

Constant

14.475***

49.687***

R2

0.144

0.386

F Ratio

4.868***

21.229***

Coefficient significant at: * P < 0.05, ** P < 0.01, *** P < 0.001

Reference category is given in parentheses

Results

Older adults’ involvement in domestic labor

Our descriptive results showed that housework remains a female normative at older age. Older women were much more involved in ‘core household tasks’ with an average of 24.70 compared to only 1.89 scores for older men (see Table 3). The gap between older men’s and older women’s involvement in ‘care giving’ tasks was narrow, with both older men and women showing a low involvement. This may be partly attributed to the type of tasks included in this category such as care for sick members in the household, dropping and picking up members of the household, and minding children’s school issues. People’s contribution to these tasks naturally drops with age. Older women seemed to manage household-related financial affairs more than older men did, with older women scoring 1.30 out of 2.5 in the ‘financial management’ category and older men scoring 0.78. While men in general look after payment of bills and debts, women are responsible for the more frequently performed tasks of managing household expenses (Shelton and John 1996; Greenstein 1996; Bianchi et al. 2000; Coltrane 2000; Essex and Hong 2005).

The results indicated that older women were more involved in ‘home management’ than older men (2.64 vs. 1.75). Szinovacz (1992) argued that older women strive to experience a managerial role after long years of being in a second-class position compared to men who are seen as the “boss” of the family. Accordingly, full responsibility over household affairs serves as an instrument to practice a leadership role and gain inherent satisfaction by perceiving their performance in the household domain as self-worth (Thompson and Walker 1989; Szinovacz 1992).

On the other hand, older men did more ‘maintenance’ tasks than older women (0.24 versus 0.03 out of a maximum possible score of 1.5). This finding largely echoed what has been previously published on men’s dominance of household maintenance chores (Coltrane 2000).

The overall composite index of household tasks for older women is three-times that of older men (36.54 vs. 12.94 scores). Older women’s involvement in household tasks decreased with age; the composite index value is 46.86 in the age group 60–64 years and decreased to 17.07 in the age group 80+ years.

Factors affecting older adults’ involvement in domestic labor

Married older women had the highest scores of involvement in domestic labor (44.7) followed by single women (35.5); on the other hand, the highest score for older men was among those who were widowed (19.3 sores) (see Table 4). The score for involvement in household tasks was consistently higher for older women than older men across all study variables (see Table 4). Similar to what has been previously published on the effect of household size on older adults’ contribution to domestic labor (Stone and Kemper 1990), our results showed that older women were less involved in household tasks in larger households (score = 23.6 in households with 7+ members, while score = 37.4 in households with 2–6 members). The higher the educational level of older men and women, the higher was their participation in household tasks. While older men and women with no education scored 11.9 and 36, respectively, the highest level of participation in household tasks was among those who completed their secondary education or more, with a score of 20.1 for older men and 63.3 for older women.

The results of the two regression models, one for older men and another for older women, are presented in Table 5. The explanatory power of the models, measured by the coefficient of determination (R2), indicated that the study variables explained 38.6% of the variation in domestic labor among older women, and 14.4% among older men.

Age was a significant determinant of involvement in household tasks for older women but not for older men. The contribution of older women to household work decreased with age. While being married increased older women’s involvement in household tasks, it decreased older men’s participation. Literate older men were more involved in household tasks than those who were illiterate. This variable was not significant for older women.

Besides age, the presence of one or more adult women (18–59 years old) in the household was highly significant (P < 0.001) in decreasing older men’s and older women’s participation in household tasks. In the study context, tradition and social ties dictate that adult women take care of children and older adults (Joseph 1996).

Health status and disability have been reported to affect older adults’ participation in housework (Robinson and Spitze 1992). Generally, healthier older adults contribute more to housework than those with a chronic disease or disability. Our data showed that the presence of a chronic illness reduced the contribution of both older men and women to household tasks. However, the effect of chronic illnesses was significant only on older women’s contribution (P < 0.01). A weak relationship between the presence of illness and men’s participation in domestic labor has also been reported in the literature (Essex and Hong 2005). Similarly, the presence of disability reduced the contribution of both older men and women to household tasks, but the effect was significant only on older men’s contribution (P < 0.05) (see Table 5). In other words, disability seemed to be more incapacitating on older men’s contribution to housework than the presence of a chronic disease, while the reverse is true for older women. It is worth noting that more than two-third of older adults in the study population had one or more chronic illnesses, while only 5.5% had a disability.

Headship of the household significantly increased contribution of both older men and women to household tasks. Being involved in paid work and the ‘number of older adults in the household’ were not significant determinants of involvement in housework neither for older men nor older women.

In general, older men’s participation in household tasks was much lower than that of older women in the three study communities, and housework remained feminized in the later stages of life. It has been argued that in some cases, women recognize their husbands’ participation in household tasks as interference into their domain (Hill and Dorfman 1982) and against their expectations leading to dissatisfaction (Brubaker and Hennon 1982; Brubaker 1985) and unfavorable equity (Schafer and Keith 1981). Our study could not demonstrate or disprove these propositions, which may be addressed through qualitative research.

Discussion

In this article, we explored factors affecting older adults’ participation in housework in communities on the outskirts of Beirut, Lebanon. We found that the level of older women’s participation in housework was higher than that of older men. Our findings were consistent with the International literature suggesting that the primary responsibility for housework among older adults remains a female issue across various cultures (Gibson 1996; Dorfman and Heckert 1988; Keith and Wacker 1990; Dorfman 1992; Robinson and Spitze 1992; Beales 2000; Coltrane 2000; Ghysels 2000; Essex and Hong 2005).

Three salient factors seemed to have a major impact on older adults’ contribution to housework; these were the presence of one or more adult women living in the household, marital status and age of the older adult.

Given the patriarchal context of the study communities, adult women (18–59 years old) are likely to take over most of the housework responsibilities, relieving other family members. In general, older adults expect to be served by adult women living in the same household (Joseph and Stork 1993). This pattern persists in Lebanon, a country characterized by strong social affective ties and connectivity, features that are often fragile in industrialized countries (Joseph 1993; Sibai et al. 2004).

Marital status was an important determinant of performing household tasks among older adults, in that being married meant less involvement for older men and more involvement for older women. Our findings demonstrate a gender divide of housework among older adults and concur with the gender theory regarding the uneven distribution of domestic labor between men and women (Szinovacz 1989; Bianchi et al. 2000; Coltrane 2000).

In general, as age increased, older adults’ contribution to household tasks decreased irrespective of gender. This finding may be related to a decrease in older adults’ fitness with age. However, the decrease in older women’s contribution to household tasks across all age groups was significant for older women but not for older men for whom the variation was minimal.

Age was a major determinant of older women’s involvement in household tasks. Older women were more involved in domestic activities than older men and this gender gap was high.

A notable strength of this research was its contribution to the literature on older adults’ participation in domestic labor in a Middle Eastern patriarchal context. However, our study has some important limitations. The findings are specific to older adults residing in three underserved communities on the outskirts of Beirut and may not reflect older adults’ involvement in household tasks in more affluent communities. The cross-sectional nature of the study hampered the interpretation of direction of effects. Data were collected using a proxy respondent from the household to provide information on all members of the household. Only 38% of older adults in the study sample were proxy respondents and provided their personal information. Other members of the household may have limited knowledge concerning older members’ activities and practices.

The measures used to capture domestic labor did not assess the time consumed in performing housework; instead a scale that ranged from ‘never’ to ‘always’ was used. However, we believe that measuring the time spent in performing household tasks would not add much to answering the objective of this article.

Acknowledgments

This project was supported by grants from the Wellcome Trust, Mellon and Ford Foundations.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006