Work-family regimes and household division of labour

Following this general argument, we hypothesise that the household division of labour can be expected to be most egalitarian under an individual-independence regime where women are encouraged to participate in paid employment and to receive more support from the state for doing so. As we noted earlier, in the individual-independence regime, women are not only more likely to gain access to independent resources that increase their power within the household, they are also more likely to relegate much of the housework (especially activities related to child rearing) to state institutions. Other gender-equality measures, especially those implemented in the labour market, also increase women’s power in relation to that of their spouses, and they thus serve to increase equality within the household.

Since women who participate in full-time paid work hold positions in the labour market that are more similar to men’s than other women do, it stands to reason that they also establish a more egalitarian division of labour at home [Sti00] [Fuw04]. We therefore expect a more egalitarian division of labour in the market-dependence regime than in the family and state-dependence regimes. This should be most evident among highly educated women (who have better opportunities in the labour market) and those who work continuously on a full-time basis. In other words, having a dual-earner ideology without state support creates a bifurcation among women. Those who can maintain their employment also achieve higher equality at home, while women who interrupt their employment due to childcare costs and lack of support, experience greater inequality within the family.

Although the household division of labour under a market-dependence regime may be more egalitarian on average than in other regimes, as noted above, we also expect that the effect of spouses’ relative resources on their household arrangements will be strongest in this regime, because market considerations play such an important role in it. This means that we would expect to find a stronger relationship between the extent of women’s dependence on their spouses and the division of labour in the household in the market-dependence regime than in other regime types. Similarly, time availability will be an important consideration in assigning household tasks in this regime, since the basic family ideology promotes gender equality through market involvement.

In the family-dependence regime, the division of household labour is expected to be more segregated. This is mainly because the family-dependence regime is premised on a traditional gender ideology, and the state provides no support for working mothers. The traditional ideology, combined with market constraints (few part-time jobs, gender inequality in the market) leads women to assume the chief responsibility for family work. Finally, in the state-dependence regime, while the division of labour is still traditional and gender-segregated, the fact that the state provides some direct support to women provides both actual and symbolic resources women can use to negotiate the household division of labour. In this context, reduced time availability associated with employment and the gender beliefs held by the spouses are expected to affect intra-household arrangements.

While the proposition that macro-level attributes should eventually be reflected at the micro-household level has been gaining support, the social mechanisms involved are not clearly understood. Two opposing mechanisms may be at work in this case. Family welfare policies may reduce the dependency of women on their spouses by altering the balance of resources, leading to a more egalitarian organisation of the household. At the same time, policies that encourage women’s labour market participation by integrating family and work activities and reducing women’s time constraints may actually contribute to greater inequality in the organisation of the household. This is because reduced-hours employment, generous paid leave schemes, and public childcare arrangements give women greater flexibility to combine employment with household tasks and relieve men of the responsibility for care work (see Hook’s [Hoo06] findings). It can be argued that state support for working mothers will help to increase gender equality within the household when it is accompanied by a perception of a gender-neutral division of labour, but not when the dominant ideology espouses a gendered division of labour. Thus, in the state-dependence regime, state support is expected to encourage a more segregated division of housework than in the individual-independence regime. Moreover, when dual-earner couples are compared across regimes, higher inequality within households is expected in the state-dependence regime than in the family-dependence regime, since in the latter women who participate in paid employment are most likely to be a highly selected group, either because of their market opportunities or family needs. They are also more likely to work full-time as a result of limited opportunities for part-time work.

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