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Taking your first steps into higher education
Taking your first steps into higher education

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1.3 Making sense

So how should we make sense of the different conclusions reached by social science research into the division of housework? And what does the evidence tell us now in the twenty-first century? The next extract provides us with more-recent evidence. It also provides the tools for thinking about why our experiences might be different.

Activity 1 Making notes on the division of housework

Timing: Allow approximately 30 minutes

Successful social science study depends on being able to make your own sense of different kinds of writing. This activity gives you the opportunity to use a technique called scan reading to make sense of a particular piece of writing.

This short extract contains a lot of different ideas, scan reading can help ‘pin down’ what the key ideas are in a piece of writing.

You may need to read the extract more than once. Record your answers in your notebook.

  • a.Look at the title and the first line in italics under the title. Think of two questions that you think this article might answer for you.
  • b.Then scan read the article. Focus on:
    • i.the title
    • ii.the opening paragraph
    • iii.the sentence in each of the following paragraphs which makes clear the topic of the paragraph
    • iv.and the entire final paragraph.

Working up a sweat

Ivor Gaber on the division of housework … and the wage gap between the genders

Who works harder, men or women? In a marriage or partnership, the answer is that it all depends on the employment circumstances of the couple, their ages and beliefs they have about their appropriate roles within a household.

Researcher, Xavier Ramos, from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, has been looking at the division of work between men and women in British households. What he has found is that when it comes to housework, on average women do almost four times as much as their partners – men averaging five and a half hours a week, compared with women’s 19 hours a week.

Where both partners are in employment they end up working (paid and unpaid) almost the same amount of time – 50 hours a week – but with men spending more time in paid work and women spending more time working in the home. However, if the woman is in part-time employment, and the man is working full time, she has a much higher total workload than her male partner – 13 hours more, most of it housework.

The findings are based on the British household panel survey – a long term survey of some 5,500 households and 10,300 individuals. Ramos, who presented his research at a recent conference organised by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, suggests that, despite his overall conclusions, the differences between the amount of time men and women spend in domestic and paid work are narrowing. And this is attributable mainly to the changing behaviour of women.

For men, he found, the amount of time spent doing housework and paid work remained fairly constant throughout the 1990s. But for women, total work time decreased, reflecting a reduction in the time they now spend doing household chores – a reduction that has outweighed any increase in the time they spend in paid work.

The way household chores are divided between partners appears to depend also on the beliefs partners have about the role each should play in a partnership – their ‘gender ideology’. Where both held more traditional beliefs, Ramos found, the division was more unequal and woman did the bulk of the domestic chores, namely food shopping, cooking, cleaning, washing and child care. Couples holding more egalitarian beliefs shared the housework load more equally.

In circumstances where the two partners held different gender ideologies, the man tended to do a smaller part of the domestic work. In other words, men do relatively little domestic work unless both they and their partners are relatively egalitarian in their beliefs about gender roles.

The domestic workload is still shared unequally in Britain. But this is not perceived as unfair. About three-quarters of men and women surveyed thought the division of housework time either ‘somewhat fair’ or ‘very fair’. Individuals have such favourable views, Ramos argues, because they take account of not only their own share of domestic labour but how much time they and their partners spend in paid employment.

(Gaber, 2003)


Scan reading is a really useful technique and writing notes on the basis of a scan reading can help you demonstrate to yourself that you are have grasped the key points of a piece of writing.

How do your notes compare with what follows?

According to Ramos, women’s continued high levels of employment outside the home have not been accompanied by dramatic changes in who does the work in the home, although there have been some changes. However, there are differences between families according to age (though discussion of this factor is not developed in the extract), the amount of work that women do outside the home, and also the beliefs of the couple.

This shows that social science struggles to give a short simple answer to the question of who does the work in the home. However, the social science approach does suggest that the complexity of the division of domestic work is at least partly explained by the connection between women’s role outside the home and their role in the home. Ramos’ research also suggests that families differ in how work is divided. This diversity is explored further in the next section from the point of view of gender ideology.

If you would like to learn more about study skills or to refresh your English reading and writing skills you might want to take a look at these other free badged open courses: Succeed with learning [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] and English: skills for learning.