My Academic Writing Series: It's Not My Turn! An Analysis on The Gendered Division of Household Labour

As part of my academic writing series I am publishing papers I have done for various classes during my undergraduate degree at Simon Fraser University. 

These are uploaded for the enjoyment of reading on a variety of topics, and are especially targeted towards friends and family who are interested in reading what they've charge thousands of students to write on.

This paper has been embedded in this post for easy reading; however, please do not plagiarize; it is unethical and an embarrassment to education as a whole. The point of the academic community is to collaborate and add new original research to the knowledge pool. 

Now that I've lectured you, you can brace yourself and go ahead and read my paper.


It's Not My Turn!
An Analysis on The Gendered Division of Household Labour

Imagine a world where garbage was magically picked up, dishes instantaneously scrubbed, and laundry automatically folded. Unfortunately, this is not reality. Chores, and the division of all other labour is an integral part of managing the household and is a key issue of debate within the family. However, the debate of who does what in the household runs much deeper than a family quarrel, and is based upon deeply rooted and socially constructed, gendered ideals. This paper will discuss which social factors affect what type of labour model is used in the home, and critically analyze three types of labour models; specifically, the traditional, reversal, and egalitariandivision of labour. Overall, the aim of this discussion is to 1) understand division of labour as an inherently socio-political act, and 2) seek to understand the most viable and successful division of labour model that can be adopted in contemporary Canadian homes.

In this paper, a traditionalmodel of labour adheres to the stereotypical nuclear “fifties” family, where the father is a breadwinner, and the mother stays at home as the main caregiver of the children and household manager. On the other hand, the reversalmodel places the female as the main provider and the man as the main caregiver and ‘househusband.’ An egalitarian model includes both partners working as well as contributing equally to the housework and care of children. The definition of household labour falls under Statistic Canada’s term ‘unpaid work,’ which is, “Work that is not paid (but does not include volunteer work), and is divided into three categories: housework, care of children, and care and assistance for seniors” (Mitchell 2012).

Division of Labour As a Socio-Political Act

If the division of labour is an inherently social and political act, then it is important to examine the social factors that create different labour models within the home. The social factors that will be examined in this paper are religion, education, the economy/labour market, masculinity and motherhood constructs. Each of these shapes how families operate generally, but also propagate how unpaid and paid work is delegated amongst members.

Religion provides normative support for the institution of marriage, and traditional labour models (Bradford et al. 2006). However Canadian statistics show a 10% decline over the past twenty years in attendance of religious services (Lindsey 2008). With the decrease in religious activity, there has been a subsequent increase in reversal and egalitarian models of labour (Bradford et. al 2006, Orrange 2003). Orrange (2003) explains the link between secularity and the increase in alternative models of labour; moreover, if one does not identify too closely with a rigidly defined set of institutional roles, then you can more easily adapt to changing circumstances and modify roles within a marriage. The level of involvement in religion will affect how unpaid and paid labour is delegated amongst family members.

Education as an institution also effects labour models chosen within the home. Policy changes in schools, and the increased accessibility and affordability of child care centers, after school systems, medical care, and elderly support will affect how parents split workloads in and out of the home (Bianchi 2011). The actual education levels of the parents themselves will also affect labour and gender role patterns within the marriage (Cunningham 2008). The more educated the woman is, the less likely she is to adhere to gender specialized roles within the marriage, and the more educated the couple is the less likely they are to strictly follow traditional models of labour (Cunningham 2008).

Obviously women’s participation in the labour market will affect the division of labour in the household. The more economic power in the relationship, the more independence and leverage you have to make decisions within the home (Walker 2009). In addition if partners relative earnings are greater, there will be less marital conflict than lower relative earnings (Winkler et al. 2005). Spouses’ relative earnings may fluctuate over time, and thus, there may be an economic “balance of power” shift every once in a while; however the correlation between income and power in the relationship is clear (Winkler et al. 2005). In addition, women who have been employed are substantially less likely to be supportive of traditional labour models (Cunningham 2008). Even when non-traditional labour models are used, such as the reversal model, women often complain about a power imbalance because they are picking up a ‘second shift’ of work at home to maintain cleanliness and proper child care (Maume 2008, Marshall 2006). The economy and a woman’s involvement in the labour market directly affect the delegation of unpaid work in the home in impactful ways.

The research surrounding division of labour in the home focuses greatly on our socially constructed views of masculinity and femininity. Masculinity is embodied in the person of the 'working man' (Hawkins 1978). Moreover, in Maume’s research (2008) participants described fatherhood as the need to work hard in a career in order to provide a “package deal” of material support for their children. Even in egalitarian models, partners will often replicate gender stereotypes and patterns of traditional models within their relationship tacitly (Bradford et al. 2006). For example in an international survey done in 2002 with 32 different countries, men who participated in housework still created a hierarchy of tasks that were more ‘masculine’ to do over more ‘feminine’ tasks (Tai et al. 2013).

Our socially constructed views of motherhood will also directly influence the image of a father’s masculinity (Eichler 2010, Rich 1976, Christopher 2012). If women tend to stick to the ideals of hegemonic motherhood and follow biological justifications for staying at home with their children, then men will associate their masculinity with being the provider (Eichler 2010, Rich 1976). So despite a particular model of labour within the household, men will work longer hours and wives will curtail careers because of the rationalization of such gendered roles being the ‘natural’ choice (Maume 2008, Christopher 2012). A woman’s navigation between the intensive mother or ideal worker identities created by society’s expectations will directly affect the division of labour model chosen within the home.

The social arenas of religion, education, the labour market, masculinity, and hegemonic motherhood reinforce public social and political ideals in the assumed private sphere of the home. Each of these factors is actively influencing the decisions partners make in the gendered division of household labour.

Critical Analysis of the Three Labour Models Within Contemporary Canada

According to a special report on the perspectives on labour and income done by Katherine Marshall (2006) for Statistics Canada, the division of labour has undergone massive change throughout recent years. Women are spending more time in the paid labour market than ever before, and there has been an increase in men’s participation in housework. In fact, in 2005 approximately 7 in 10 married Canadian men, both with and without children participated in housework, and their participation rose from 54% in 1986 to 71% in 2005 (Marshall 2006). In 1986 women did 3.3 hours to every 1.1 hours of household work a man did, but in 2005 this gap decreased as women did only 2.8 hours to every 1.5 hours of household work a man did. Given these trends it is important to consider the implications of these figures, and seek to understand the most viable and successful division of labour model that can be adopted in contemporary Canadian homes. This section will critically analyze the three main types of labour models found in Canada amongst heteronormative couples.

The traditional labour model is often seen as the archaic way of doing things due to foundation in a biologically deterministic view of motherhood (Eichler 2010). There are, however, a plethora of both pros and cons to this model of labour. For example, when distinguishing between unpaid and paid work between partners, some types of unpaid work may be harder to identify when mixed with emotional investment. Eichler and Albanese (2007), argue that relationships exhibit their quality and their equality through psychological effects, such as emotion work. A number of qualitative studies suggest that women express their love for their families via domestic labour and that marital conflict can arise when women ask working fathers to match their level of commitment to family life (Maume 2008, Eichler 2010). Are certain types of work really measurable, and if not, are they quantifiably and economically comparable? For the most part, marriages that are more egalitarian are not necessarily marked by higher level of men’s positive emotion work or by women’s happiness with such emotion work (Bradford et al. 2006). Research actually links such emotional expression within gender traditionalism, and institutionalized religious marriages (Bradford et al. 2006, Maume 2008).

On the contrary side, if one cannot be depended on in the traditional model of labour to fulfill set roles then coordination will slip in the home, and mismanagement will create marital conflict (Orrange 2008). This places extraordinary pressure on both the male and the female in their prescribed roles to exceed in their narrow role. In addition, if there is an over advantaged partner (someone that does little housework but has higher decision making power), they may receive instrumental support, but will be less likely to receive emotional support from their partner (Eichler & Albanese 2007). Not only may females be less supportive to their partners, but also if they are personally dissatisfied with the fairness of their role in the labour model, then they are less likely to be satisfied with their husband’s emotion work (Bradford et al. 2006). Another disadvantage the traditional model poses is that a very gendered division of labour will create unequal opportunities for women in both the public and private sphere, perpetrating and reproducing inequality (Josephson 2008). Do these cons outweigh the emotional positives argued for traditional models? Are traditional models still the most viable and successful division of labour model that can be adopted in contemporary Canadian homes? If so, why is the traditional model of labour on the decline?

Most couples would argue that it is just not economically viable to have one partner not working, especially in expensive housing markets such as metropolitan Vancouver. This creates an inherent need for a renegotiation of the traditional labour model, into a more egalitarian model of labour. On top of the economic benefits, the egalitarian model is more likely to limit the affect of gender inequality (Josephson 2008). In addition, more equitable relationships result in higher levels of intimacy, which is reflected in higher levels of emotional support (Eichler & Albanese 2007). In the case study of Marc and Amy Vachon, the couple tried to do everything 50/50 within their marriage, in order to aim for total equality (Walker 2009). Although they reported overall success in this model, the study was limited in its length, and a longitudinal study of such couples would prove helpful in illuminating the long-term effects of egalitarian structures.

Unfortunately, although egalitarian models of labour may strive for the idealistic picture painted by Walker’s (2009) study of Marc and Amy Vachon, relationships may work under false pretenses. This is apparent as in Bradford’s study (2006) where he found that there was a marital quality decline due to the fact that women with increasingly egalitarian gender role attitudes married men who had not yet adopted a sufficiently egalitarian approach to marriage. In addition, men sometimes reported purposefully falling short of women’s expectations on household tasks so they would no longer be asked to do them. This strategy of “passive resistance” allows men to appear egalitarian, while also having the effect of limiting their domestic duties in favour of career pursuits (Maume 2008). Even if the egalitarian model of labour is not under these false pretenses, and both partners participate in both paid and unpaid work, mother’s reported feeling the weight of a ‘second shift’ of work at home to maintain cleanliness and proper child care, even when the husband helped (Maume 2008, Marshall 2006). Or, they felt the need to act as a ‘manager’ overseeing the division of labour at home, even while at their paid job (Marshall 2006, Walker 2009, Christopher 2012, Ranson 2010). It becomes clear that egalitarian models are very situational and often are still perpetuating traditional roles in dual income earning families.

According to research the reversal model is typically a pragmatic choice because the female partner is making more money, or the male’s job is unstable (Chesley, Winker et al. 2005). Interestingly enough there are very few positive findings within the research to support the ‘househusband’ and ‘female breadwinner’ scenario; in fact, it has all the relationship negatives of the traditional model (they are both still a single earner income based model), but worsened due to the stigmas attached to a non-traditional lifestyle. In an American study done by Brescoll (2005), participants reported high levels of negative attitudes towards non-traditional families versus traditional families, as well as, a lower social regard for stay-at-home fathers, and women who worked for personal fulfillment rather than economic need. Stay-at-home fathers are stigmatized in the community, at parent groups, and in school and playground settings where they must enter a domain that is typically dominated by women and children. Even despite the personal choice to reverse roles, traditional gender stereotypes still exist externally in the community and institutions. In addition, another negative aspect to this, is women often reported that although they were at work they took on an “absentee executive role” and were much more concerned with their children and what was going on at home then men who were working (Ranson 2010). Women, often reported feeling like they were missing a sense of fulfillment they could be getting from seeing their children more, as well as they had more issues with feeling like the children were not attached enough to them (Ranson 2010, Chesley 2011). These issues relate directly to the gender stereotypes and hegemonic mothering ideals present in our society (Rich 1976). Although there may be personal exceptions for this model, are there conceptually any actual overarching benefits to this type of division of labour within contemporary Canada?

Division of labour research is evidently a complicated and often conflicting mess. It is arguable that there is not one singular solution, or superior type of labour model, as each is adopted due to a family’s very specific socialization as discussed before, and their economic needs. The most common problem amongst every model, is that despite how labour is divided women still feel as though they are picking up the ‘second shift,’ acting as an ‘executive’ or ‘manager’ of the home, or feeling stigmatized by their choices of level of involvement in and out of the home. This imbalance in gender equality leads to marital conflict, higher gendered wage gaps, and reduced well being (Cooke 2004, Coverman 1983, Marshall 2006). The fact that despite what labour model is chosen traditional gender norms and intensive mothering ideals persist is problematic (Chesley 2011, Christopher 2012). Women should be able to choose what type of labour model works for their life, and with their partner free from stigmatization or discrimination. Whether you choose to adopt a highly traditional model of labour and be a stay-at home mom, or a full-fledged career with a househusband, the most important indicator of success noted was the perceived level of intimacy and emotional work of each partner (Bradford et al 2006, Eichler & Albanese 2007). Thus, by openly communicating with your partner about your expectations of commitment to paid and unpaid labour and expressing genuine gratitude for whatever those choices are, any model of labour has the potential of success and viability within contemporary Canada. In essence, it doesn’t matter how you figure out “whose turn it is” as long as you both know and love who is doing it!


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