Do men and women do equal amounts of housework and child care today or is there evidence of a dual burden for women? What do the trends suggest about women’s empowerment?
Before reading this post, you might like to read this preceding post: Conceptualizing Gender Equality, which covers some of the concepts sociologists have developed over the years to describe trends towards gender equality in domestic life.
The domestic division of labour has become more since the 1950s.
Numerous surveys carried out since the 1950s show a narrowing of the gender gap in the domestic division of laobur.
Liberal Feminists and Young and Wilmott would argue that this is because more women are in paid work and families become more symmetrical.
Another reason for this is the ‘commercialisation of housework’ – New technologies such as washing machines, hoovers and fridge-freezers (think ready meals) have reduced the amount of housework that needs doing and narrows the gender divide in the domestic division of labour.
Lockdown narrowed the Gendered Division of Labour Gap
A 2020 study from the ONS found that before Lockdown, in 2104-15, women did 1 hour 50 minutes more housework and childcare per day than men, which reduced to 1 hour and 7 minutes per day during Lockdown.
Historic Evidence of gender inequality in the domestic division of labour
Despite the quite dramatic changes with lockdown, historically there is considerable evidence that the Gendered Division of Labour shows a persistent pattern of women doing a lot more housework and childcare than men!
A 2016 study showed that while women do almost twice as much housework than men in White British and Black British households, women do three tims as much housework than men in Indian households, and four times as much in Pakistani and Bangladeshi households.
The study found that gender attitudes and lack of education were predictors of housework imbalance – more educated women in all ethnic groups did proportionately less housework.
A 2014 survey by the BBC’s Women’s Hour found women devote well over the equivalent of a working day each week to household chores – double the amount undertaken by men. The poll for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour suggests that women spend an average of 11-and-a-half hours doing housework by their own estimation, while men complete just six.
Similar findings were revealed in a survey of almost 1,000 users of the Mumsnet website.
Changing lightbulbs, taking the bins out and DIY were the only three of 54 common domestic tasks done in more than half of cases by men, with 15 roughly shared and the rest chiefly carried out by women.
Most often done by female partners were organising playdates, health appointments, childcare and birthday parties – as well as cleaning and laundry. Parents evenings, school plays and bedtime stories are most often seen as shared activities.
Justine Roberts, CEO of Mumsnet said: “One in three working mums is the main family wage earner, a rise of one million over the last 18 years… But despite this, women are still busting a gut back home, responsible for the vast majority of chores and domestic responsibilities. It’s not surprising we still talk about glass ceilings and the lack of women at the top. Most of us are just too exhausted to climb the greasy pole.”
According to a 2011 survey by the Social Issues Research Centre, The Changing Face of Motherhood, there has been hardly any change in domestic division of labour over the last 20 years (since the mid 1990s):
In 1994 it emerged that for 79 per cent of couples the woman did most or all of the laundry, with the role being shared in only 18 per cent of cases. The latest survey (in 2011) showed that the proportion sharing the role has only risen by two percentage points. In 70 per cent of houses laundry is still seen as women’s work.
In the kitchen, there has been virtually no change in the last 10 years. Women still do the lion’s share of the cooking in 55 per cent of couple households.
When it comes to tasks such as shopping for groceries, women’s workload has increased slightly the early 1990s. The picture was similar when people were asked about cleaning and caring for sick family members.
By contrast, DIY is still seen as virtually the sole preserve of men in 75 per cent of households – exactly as it was almost 20 years ago
Looking at the above statistics it seems reasonable to conclude that Radical Feminist concepts such as the dual burden and the triple shift still apply.
We can also conclude that women going into paid work has not yet resulted in total equality in the domestic division of labour.
It also seems reasonable to assume that there may be social class differences in the gendered division of labour – the top 10% of households will be in a position to hire cleaners and child care thus reducing the dual burden on middle class, professional women.
Another way in which middle class women will be advantaged compared to working class is that because of their husbands’ hire earning power, they will be more able to take time off work to be full time stay at home mums – meaning that they may do more domestic labour, but at least they don’t suffer the dual burden and triple shift.
Evidence that women going into paid work has not resulted in greater equality
However, Radical Feminists argue that paid work has led to the dual burden and triple shift
One argument used to support this view is that paid work has not been ‘liberating’. Instead women have acquired the ‘dual burden’ of paid work and unpaid housework and the family remains patriarchal – men benefit from women’s paid earnings and their domestic labour. Some Radical Feminists go further arguing that women suffer from the ‘triple shift’ where they have to do paid work, domestic work and ‘emotion work’ – being expected to take on the emotional burden of caring for children.
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