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Comparative Analyses of Housework and Its Relation to Paid Work: Institutional Contexts and Individual Agency

Vergleichende Analyse von Hausarbeit im Verhältnis zu bezahlter Arbeit: institutionelle Kontexte und individuelle Agency

Abstract

Despite major changes in gender divisions of work since the 1960s, women continue to perform a larger share of unpaid housework and care than men, whereas men continue to perform more paid work. This is true for a wide range of countries. The paper first describes respective macro-trends for women’s and men’s changing contributions to paid work, routine housework and child care over the past 70 years. It then focuses on the role of institutional context and individual agency in gender divisions of routine housework according to cross-national comparative research published since 2000. On the macro level, the paper identifies three main areas of investigation: the role of work–family policies, welfare state regimes, and national levels of gender equality (Gender Empowerment Measure, the Gender Development Index and the Gender Inequality Index) for men’s and women’s divisions of work. On the micro level, studies mainly assess theories of economic dependency and resource bargaining, time availability, doing gender and deviance neutralization. More recently, research is turning to the examination of inter-relations between the micro- and macro-level factors. According to the state of research, women are better able to enact economic and noneconomic agency in national contexts with high levels of gender equality and supportive work–family policies. This is apparent in the Scandinavian countries.

Zusammenfassung

Obwohl sich die geschlechtsspezifische Arbeitsteilung seit den 1960er-Jahren gewandelt hat, verrichten Frauen noch immer einen weitaus größeren Anteil an unbezahlter Hausarbeit als Männer, während Männer weiterhin mehr Erwerbsarbeit verrichten. Dieser Befund gilt für ein breites Spektrum an Ländern. In dem vorliegenden Artikel werden zunächst die zugrunde liegenden Makrotrends der veränderten Beiträge von Frauen und Männern zu Erwerbsarbeit, Routinehaushaltstätigkeiten und Kinderbetreuung in den letzten 70 Jahren beschrieben. Danach wird auf Basis der seit dem Jahr 2000 publizierten vergleichenden Forschungsergebnisse die Rolle institutioneller Kontexte und individueller Agency, d. h. individueller Handlungsspielräume, bei der Verrichtung von Hausarbeit in den Blick genommen. Auf der Makroebene werden in diesem Artikel drei Hauptforschungslinien zur Arbeitsteilung von Männern und Frauen identifiziert: die Rolle von Arbeits- und Familienpolitik, von Wohlfahrtsstaaten und von Geschlechteregalität (Gender Empowerment Measure, GEM; Gender Development Index, GII; und Gender Inequality Index, GDI). Auf der Mikroebene werden die Rolle ökonomischer Abhängigkeiten, ökonomische Verhandlungstheorien, zeitliche Verfügbarkeit, Doing Gender und Devianzneutralisierung untersucht. Aktuell richtet sich die Forschung zudem verstärkt auf Wechselwirkungen zwischen diesen Mikro- und Makrofaktoren. Der Forschungsstand zeigt, dass Frauen ökonomische und nichtökonomische Formen von Agency besser in nationalen Kontexten realisieren können, in denen ein hohes Maß an Geschlechteregalität besteht und in denen es eine unterstützende Arbeits- und Familienpolitik gibt. Beide Randbedingungen sind v. a. in den skandinavischen Ländern zu finden.

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Notes

  1. This literature argues that “Conspicuous care for the home is a way of demonstrating that a family is affluent enough either to free a wife from having to work in the labor market so that she can devote time to surplus labor, or, if she does work in the labor market, to pay someone else to do the surplus labor for the family. In either case, the meticulous, upkeep of a home produced by women’s surplus labor is a marker of class, race, and ethnic distinction (…)” (Thompson and Armato 2012, p. 80).

  2. In this paper, if not further specified, the term ‘gender divisions of work’ refers to how all types of work, paid and unpaid, are divided between men and women. This perspective includes studies of gender-change in either work sphere as well as changes among women and men. Work is defined as “sets of tasks that people carry out, often for a wage, to produce goods or services for others” (Smith 2006, p. 676). Unpaid work comprises a broad range of productive and reproductive tasks, including unpaid routine housework and unpaid child care (Lachance-Grzela and Bouchard 2010).

  3. Although confidence in comparative designs is far from being uncontroversial (for a summary of the critique see for instance Goerres et al. 2019), cross-national comparisons allow for testing empirical evidence and interpretations thereof across contexts, thus providing additional opportunities to assess micro-level hypotheses (Kohn 1987). This aspect is salient for studying gendered divisions of labour, because this field of research has paid a lot of attention to micro-level determinants (see Sect. 4.2).

  4. See for instance Gershuny (2018) and Sayer (2010) for a review of housework, and Cooke and Baxter (2010) for a review of gender divisions of paid and unpaid work in families.

  5. Countries have been selected to reflect the spectrum welfare state regimes discussed in the previous section, and according to the availability of time trend data.

  6. Data for 2017 have been available only for Sweden (ratio of 90) and Spain (ratio of 82).

  7. Of course, variance components are further influenced by other aspects of study design, such as the selection of countries, micro-level sampling frames and construction of the dependent variable.

  8. A broad range of macro-level work–family policy indicators have become available which allow for assessing the impact of specific macro-level variables and work–family policies on gender divisions of labor (for example the OECD family data base; Multilinks Data base; various gender equality measures, developed the United Nation’s Development Programme).

  9. Other macro-level factors observed include, for example, indicators of economic growth, economic inequality and divorce rates (Batalova and Cohen 2002; Heisig 2011).

  10. Path dependencies concern established routines in everyday life as well as trajectories, such as career paths, which are unlikely to change, unless they are disrupted by biographical turning points (Nitsche and Grunow 2016). Turning points that may impact gender divisions of paid and unpaid work include the birth of children, couples’ separation, illness or job loss. The notion of linked lives emphasizes that individual life courses are tied to the life courses of other people, most importantly that of partners and children (Moen 2003).

  11. Bühlmann et al. (2009) base their analysis on cross-sectional ESS data, but they use a life course approach to construct comparison groups reflecting different biographical stages and to inform their hypotheses.

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Acknowledgements

The author thanks Yasemin Altintop, Bastian Ast and Luisa Bischoff for research assistance, Aline Gould for language editing and Miriam Bröckel, Marina Hagen and Catherine Hakim for comments and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Daniela Grunow.

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Grunow, D. Comparative Analyses of Housework and Its Relation to Paid Work: Institutional Contexts and Individual Agency. Köln Z Soziol 71, 247–284 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11577-019-00601-1

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Keywords

  • Unpaid work
  • Gender division of labour
  • Cross-national comparison
  • Multilevel analysis
  • Review

Schlüsselwörter

  • Unbezahlte Arbeit
  • Geschlechtsspezifische Arbeitsteilung
  • Internationaler Vergleich
  • Mehrebenenanalyse
  • Überblicksartikel