Time constraints

Time constraints faced by spouses are additional determinants of the organisation of the household. This is clearly the case when it comes to women's employment. Numerous studies have documented the patterns of household work and their determinants (for example, [Gol91] [Bia00] [Bit03] [Bri94] [Bra92] [Col00]). These studies demonstrate that several factors at the household level are associated with more equal participation of spouses in housework. In particular, women’s employment activity has consistently been found to influence the time they devote to housework [Bia00] [Bla91] [Kal90] [Ros87], and, in some cases, also the participation of men in household chores [Bia00] [Dav04].

Women’s labour market activity affects household arrangements in several ways. Firstly, the time available to perform household tasks is reduced; thus, even in households in which women assume the chief responsibility for housework and childcare, the amount of time invested in these activities is lower than in instances where women are not employed. In these cases, the standards of housework are typically modified and less time is devoted to household chores [Bia00]. In some cases, household work may be delegated to other household members (the husband, children) or to market-provided domestic services [Lev06].

Life-cycle factors such as transitions to marriage, childbearing and aging also influence the division of household labour. Having more and younger children increases the demand for housework [Col00] [Cow92], and this typically affects women’s housework more than men’s [Sou94]. Younger women tend to spend less time doing housework and share more with their spouses than older women [Her94], reflecting both cohort and life-cycle changes.

An important mechanism for coping with the time constraints is the outsourcing of domestic tasks, as in the case of frequently eating out or employing a third party to do housework. Studies have repeatedly found that such outsourcing is associated with higher family income [Bit99 ] [Van04] and is positively related to relative power of the female spouse [Coh98]. Although it is commonly believed that outsourcing saves time, only a few studies have actually estimated its effect on the amount of time couples spend on housework. Brines [Bri94] has shown that the relative expenditure on restaurant meals was negatively related to wives’ (but not husbands’) housework time, while Van der Lippe et al. [Van04] have reported that both domestic help and take-away meals were negatively associated with women’s housework and the latter had a weak negative effect on men’s housework as well. Outsourcing, then, appears to be an intervening factor leading to a reduction of time spent on household chores by wives with relatively ample resources. Although outsourcing frees spouses from the performance of certain household chores, there is still the matter of organising and overseeing these activities. This responsibility is typically in the hands of the female spouse, who will contract the help and supervise the actual performance. Hence, while the amount of time the female spouse might spend on housework is reduced, her responsibility is not, and the gendered nature of housework is unlikely to disappear.

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