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Taking your first steps into higher education
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1.2 Division of labour within families

How have these changes affected the division of labour within families?

During the late twentieth century and in the early twenty-first century, the number of women working outside the home continued to increase. In 2009, women’s employment in the UK was at a record high of 13.6 million.

This information leads social scientist to ask questions like:

  • What have been the implications of these changes for a woman’s role as housewife?
  • Have women continued to do most of the work in the home or has it become more shared between men and women?

During the 1960s and 1970s, there seemed to be some indication that families might be becoming more equal and that as more women worked outside the home, men would increase the amount of domestic work they undertook. A particularly influential study at the time was Young and Willmott’s The Symmetrical Family (1973). Young and Willmott argued that the middle classes were leading a trend towards more equal or ‘symmetrical’ marriages where tasks were shared more equally.

This prompted further research which suggested that these changes had not been as great as was originally assumed. One review of the evidence argued that ‘none of the data seem to warrant any suggestion that the traditional female responsibility for household work has been substantially eroded, or that male participation has significantly increased’ (Morris, 1990, p. 120). Women, it seemed, now had a dual role, juggling paid employment and work in the home.

So studies from the second half of the twentieth century told two different stories. On the one hand, housework was becoming more equally shared. On the other hand, women still did most of the housework at the same time as working outside the home. Almost certainly some of you reading this will want to support the argument that change has occurred. Maybe it is part of your own experience that men today do a lot more in the home than their fathers’ generation did. Equally, some of you may feel that the argument that there has been no change, better reflects your own experiences.

A man doing housework
Figure 4 A man doing housework