Happiness is widely recognized to be a marker of overall health and well-being across populations. Most analyses of the correlates of happiness highlight the importance of economic factors such as paid work, paying little attention to unpaid domestic work, an activity disproportionately done by women. Using time use data collected from nearly 3500 married women across 12 provinces in China, we examine whether women’s time spent in housework is related to their self-reported happiness. In rural China, we find that women who do more housework hours report lower happiness. Yet, women who do a higher share of the couple’s housework, and who do a greater share of housework than other women in the community, report greater happiness. These relationships are not apparent in urban China. We draw two conclusions. First, absolute and relative time spent in unpaid work is associated with women’s well-being, although whether and how depends on local context. Second, in analyses of time use, notions of equity will miss the mark without a situated understanding of the motivations, meanings, and rewards attached to work and family time. To advance research on gender, family, and well-being, we must find ways to incorporate more fully the structural and ideological aspects of gender systems, both of which have important implications for happiness.
- Unpaid Work
- Housework Hours
- Urban China
- Rural China
- China Health And Nutrition Survey (CHNS)
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout
Purchases are for personal use onlyLearn about institutional subscriptions
We also conducted analyses using ordinal forms of the dependent variable (collapsed into three categories or retained original five) and found similar results.
Attané, I. (2012). Being a woman in China today: A demography of gender. China Perspectives, (4), 5–15.
Barnett, R. C., & Shen, Y.-C. (1997). Gender, high-and low-schedule-control housework tasks, and psychological distress: A study of dual-earner couples. Journal of Family Issues, 18(4), 403–428.
Bauer, J., Feng, W., Riley, N. E., & Xiaohua, Z. (1992). Gender inequality in urban China: Education and employment. Modern China, 18(3), 333–370.
Bianchi, S. M., Milkie, M. A., Sayer, L. C., & Robinson, J. P. (2000). Is anyone doing the housework? Trends in the gender division of household labor. Social Forces, 79(1), 191–228.
Brockmann, H., Delhey, J., Welzel, C., & Yuan, H. (2009). The China puzzle: Falling happiness in a rising economy. Journal of Happiness Studies, 10(4), 387–405.
Carriero, R., & Todesco, L. (2017). The interplay between equity and gender ideology in perceived housework fairness: Evidence from an experimental vignette design. Sociological Inquiry, 87(4), 561–585.
Chen, F. (2005). Employment transitions and the household division of labor in China. Social Forces, 84(2), 831–851.
Chen, F., Short, S. E., & Entwisle, B. (2000). The impact of grandparental proximity on maternal childcare in China. Population Research and Policy Review, 19(6), 571–590.
Clark, A. E., & Oswald, A. J. (1996). Satisfaction and comparison income. Journal of Public Economics, 61(3), 359–381.
Diener, E., & Suh, M. E. (1997). Subjective well-being and age: An international analysis. Annual Review of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 17, 304–324.
Dong, X., & An, X. (2015). Gender patterns and value of unpaid care work: Findings from China’s first large-scale time use survey. Review of Income and Wealth, 61(3), 540–560.
Duxbury, L., & Higgins, C. (2001). Work-life balance in the new millennium: Where are we? Where do we need to go? Ottawa: Canadian Policy Research Networks.
Easterlin, R. A. (2003). Explaining happiness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(19), 11176–11183.
Easterlin, R. A., Morgan, R., Switek, M., & Wang, F. (2012). China’s life satisfaction, 1990–2010. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(25), 9775–9780.
Easterlin, R.A., Wang, F., & Wang, S. (2017). Growth and happiness in China, 1990–2015. In J. F. Helliwell, R. Layard, and J. Sachs (Eds.), World happiness report 2017(pp. 48–83). New York: Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
Eibner, C., & Evans, W. N. (2005). Relative deprivation, poor health habits, and mortality. Journal of Human Resources, 40(3), 591–620.
Entwisle, B., Henderson, G. E., Short, S. E., Bouma, J., & Fengying, Z. (1995). Gender and family businesses in rural China. American Sociological Review, 60(1), 36–57.
Entwisle, B., Short, S. E., Zhai, F. Y., & Ma, L. (2000). Household economies in transitional times. In B. Entwisle & G. E. Henderson (Eds.), Re-drawing boundaries: Work, household, and gender in China (pp. 261–283). Berkeley: University of California Press.
Erickson, R. J. (2005). Why emotion work matters: Sex, gender, and the division of household labor. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67(2), 337–351.
Glass, J., & Fujimoto, T. (1994). Housework, paid work, and depression among husbands and wives. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 35(2), 179–191.
Golding, J. M. (1990). Division of household labor, strain, an ddepressive symptoms among Mexican Americans and non-Hispanic whites. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 14(1), 103–117.
Graham, C., & Felton, A. (2006). Inequality and happiness: Insights from Latin America. Journal of Economic Inequality, 4(1), 107–122.
Graham, C., Zhou, S., & Zhang, J. (2017). Happiness and health in China: The paradox of progress. World Development, 96, 231–244.
Greenstein, T. N. (1996). Gender ideology and perceptions of the fairness of the division of household labor: Effects on marital quality. Social Forces, 74(3), 1029–1042.
Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (2017). World Happiness Report 2017. New York: Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
Higgins, L. T., Zheng, M., Liu, Y., & Sun, C. H. (2002). Attitudes to marriage and sexual behaviors: A survey of gender and culture differences in China and United Kingdom. Sex Roles, 46(3), 75–89.
Hook, J. L. (2006). Care in context: Men’s unpaid work in 20 countries, 1965–2003. American Sociological Review, 71(4), 639–660.
Hu, C.-Y. (2008). A longitudinal study of married women’s probability of being housewives in reforming urban China. Baton Rouge: Department of Sociology, Louisiana State University.
Jacka, T. (1990). Back to the wok: Women and Employment in Chinese Industry in the 1980s. The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, 24, 1–23.
Jacka, T. (1997). Women’s work in rural China: Change and continuity in an era of reform. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ji, Y., Wu, X., Sun, S., & He, G. (2017). Unequal care, unequal work: Toward a more comprehensive understanding of gender inequality in post-reform Urban China. Sex Roles, 77(11-12), 765–778.
Jiang, S., Lu, M., & Sato, H. (2012). Identity, inequality, and happiness: Evidence from urban China. World Development, 40(6), 1190–1200.
Kim, S. W., Fong, V. L., Yoshikawa, H., Way, N., Chen, X., Deng, H., & Lu, Z. (2010). Income, work preferences and gender roles among parents of infants in urban China: A mixed method study from Nanjing. The China Quarterly, 204, 939–959.
Knight, J., & Gunatilaka, R. (2010). The rural–urban divide in China: Income but not happiness? The Journal of Development Studies, 46(3), 506–534.
Lachance-Grzela, M., & Bouchard, G. (2010). Why do women do the lion’s share of housework? A decade of research. Sex Roles, 63(11–12), 767–780.
Lennon, M. C., & Rosenfield, S. (1994). Relative fairness and the division of housework: The importance of options. American Journal of Sociology, 100(2), 506–531.
Li, J., & Raine, J. W. (2014). The time trend of life satisfaction in China. Social Indicators Research, 116(2), 409–427.
MacDonald, M., Phipps, S., & Lethbridge, L. (2005). Taking its toll: The influence of paid and unpaid work on women’s well-being. Feminist Economics, 11(1), 63–94.
Nakamura, M., & Akiyoshi, M. (2015). What determines the perception of fairness regarding household division of labor between spouses? PLoS One, 10(7), e0132608.
Oishi, S., Kesebir, S., & Diener, E. (2011). Income inequality and happiness. Psychological Science, 22(9), 1095–1100.
Oshio, T., Nozaki, K., & Kobayashi, M. (2013). Division of household labor and marital satisfaction in China, Japan, and Korea. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 34(2), 211–223.
Parish, W. L., & Busse, S. (2000). Gender and work. In W. Tang & W. Parish (Eds.), Chinese urban life under reform (pp. 232–272). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pickett, K. E., & Wilkinson, R. G. (2015). Income inequality and health: A causal review. Social Science & Medicine, 128, 316–326.
Pleck, J. H. (1985). Working wives/working husbands. Beverly Hills: Sage.
Qian, Y., & Qian, Z. (2014). The gender divide in urban China: Singlehood and assortative mating by age and education. Demographic Research, 31, 1337–1364.
Qian, Y., & Qian, Z. (2015). Work, family, and gendered happiness among married people in urban China. Social Indicators Research, 121(1), 61–74.
Qian, Y., & Sayer, L. C. (2015). Division of labor, gender ideology, and marital satisfaction in East Asia. Journal of Marriage and Family, 78(2), 383–400.
Riley, N. E. (2012). Gender, work, and family in a Chinese economic zone: Laboring in paradise. Dordrecht: Springer Science & Business Media.
Short, S. E., & Sun, R. (2003). Grandmothers, formal care, and educational advantage in China. In Inequality across societies: Families, schools and persisting stratification (pp. 7–31). Bradford: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Short, S. E., Chen, F., Entwisle, B., & Fengying, Z. (2002). Maternal work and child care in China: A multi-method analysis. Population and Development Review, 28(1), 31–57.
Song, J., & Luke, N. (2014). Fairy brides from heaven: Mate selection in Rural China, 1949–2001. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 45, 497–515.
Stutzer, A., & Frey, B. S. (2006). Does marriage make people happy, or do happy people get married? The Journal of Socio-Economics, 35(2), 326–347.
Sun, S., & Chen, F. (2015). Reprivatized womanhood: Changes in mainstream media’s framing of urban women’s issues in China, 1995–2012. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77(5), 1091–1107.
Thompson, L. (1991). Family work: Women’s sense of fairness. Journal of Family Issues, 12(2), 181–196.
Wang, Q., Dongchao, M., & Sørensen, B. Æ. (2016). Revisiting gender inequality: Perspectives from the People’s Republic of China. New York: Springer.
Western, M., & Tomaszewski, W. (2016). Subjective wellbeing, objective wellbeing and inequality in Australia. PLoS One, 11(10), e0163345.
Yang, J., & Short, S. E. (2017). Investiating China’s stalled revolution. Husband and wife involvment in housework in the PRC. Working Paper.
Zimmermann, A. C., & Easterlin, R. A. (2006). Happily ever after? Cohabitation, marriage, divorce, and happiness in Germany. Population and Development Review, 32(3), 511–528.
Zuo, J. (2003). From revolutionary comrades to gendered partners: Marital construction of breadwinning in post-Mao urban China. Journal of Family Issues, 24(3), 314–337.
Zuo, J. (2004). Feminization of agriculture, relational exchange, and perceived fairness in China: A case in Guangxi Province. Rural Sociology, 69(4), 510–531.
Zuo, J. (2014). Understanding urban women’s domestic-role orientation in post-Mao China. Critical Sociology, 40(1), 111–133.
Zuo, J. (2016). Work and family in Urban China: Women’s changing experience since Mao. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Zuo, J., & Bian, Y. (2001). Gendered resources, division of housework, and perceived fairness—A case in urban China. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(4), 1122–1133.
Editors and Affiliations
© 2018 Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature
About this chapter
Cite this chapter
Zumbyte, I., Short, S.E., Luke, N. (2018). Women’s Happiness in Contemporary China: The Relevance of Unpaid Work. In: Riley, N., Brunson, J. (eds) International Handbook on Gender and Demographic Processes. International Handbooks of Population, vol 8. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-024-1290-1_16
Publisher Name: Springer, Dordrecht
Print ISBN: 978-94-024-1288-8
Online ISBN: 978-94-024-1290-1