This study explores the relationship between the actual division of housework and men’s and women’s perceived fairness in this regard. The central question is how the actual sharing of housework influences the perceptions of fairness in the division of housework. It is hypothesised that the perceptions of fairness differ between policy models. In countries where gender equality has been more present on the political agenda and dual-earner policies have been introduced, people are expected to be more sensitive to an unfair sharing or division of housework. By analysing the relationship between actual division of housework and perceptions of fairness in household work for 22 countries representing different family policy models, the study takes on a comparative perspective with the purpose of analysing the normative impact of policy. The analysis draws on data from the 2002 round of the International Social Survey Programme on family and changing gender roles. The results show that in countries that have promoted gender equality through the introduction of policies with an aim to promote dual roles in work and family, both women and men are more sensitive to an unfair division of household labour. The difference between perceptions in the different policy models is greater among men than among women, indicating that a politicization of the dual-earner family is more important for men’s equity perceptions than women’s.
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Only the Dutch speaking part of Belgium (Flanders) participates in the ISSP.
The fact that the scales run in two directions equals out the effects of the control variables, which become falsely non-significant because of the nonlinear nature of the associations (positive and negative effects in different parts of the scale end up to a zero-result). In most previous research this is not a problem in practice as their analyses focus on women’s perceived fairness only (it is a problem on a conceptual level though as the measure theoretically still runs in two directions). As I also include men’s reports, which to a large extent are a mirror of women’s, the problem explicitly occurs. This recoding does not influence the main results; it only corrects for falsely non-significant effects of the control variables.
I have analysed the data using a categorical variant of the perceived fairness variable to see if the results differ according to whether the respondent perceives that he or she does more or less than his or her fair share of the household work. The results from that test shows that the perceptions of fairness are similar independent of which of the partners performs more or less than their fair share. Hence I chose to use the three level variant as a continuous variable.
Country means for a modified version of the above described housework index are shown in the appendix, Fig. 6. The modified index ranges from −100, meaning that the partner always does all household chores, via 0 which stands for equal sharing, to +100 meaning that the respondent always does all the household chores. The bars in this figure thus distinguish between the share of housework performed as reported by male and female respondents.
Recently, Korpi et al. (2013) renewed their analysis of family policy with more recent data, including a third dimension, namely support for fathers’ involvement in the care of their young children. Most countries are classified in the same way in this updated version, with Switzerland being the only country that has changed from the traditional family model to the market model. In the present article, Switzerland is classified in the market model in accordance with Korpi et al. (2013).
A random intercept model with a cross-level interaction was used. (Random slopes models were also tested and the results from these did not deviate from the results presented in the article.)
The inclusion or exclusion of control variables does not change the overall results much. The effects of the single control variables are in most cases in line with previous research. See Table 2 for more details.
For reasons of validity, I have also tested other contextual variables measuring more general dimensions of women’s emancipation compared to my policy measures. Among these measures were (1) the Gender-Equality Index which has been created by the UNDP to capture differences in the distribution of achievements between women and men in relation to the labour market, societal empowerment and reproductive health (http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics/gii/), and (2) OECD figures concerning the countries’ maternal employment ratio (including women with a child under 15), (OECD Family Database: http://www.oecd.org/els/socialpoliciesanddata/oecdfamilydatabase.htm). As explanatory factors, both these measures perform much worse than the gender-equality norms measure. Among men, the patterns are similar to those of the gender-norms index but the relationships are much weaker, and among women the relationship was close to zero in both cases.
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Öun, I. Is it Fair to Share? Perceptions of Fairness in the Division of Housework Among Couples in 22 Countries. Soc Just Res 26, 400–421 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11211-013-0195-x
- Household work
- Division of labour
- Family policy