Families and Households: 1 Couples

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  • Created on: 19-06-21 12:15

Domestic division of labour

Division of labour = roles men and women play e.g housework, childcare, etc. 


Parsons (1955) -> nuclear family = men and women have segregated (separate) roles + clear division of labour.

Husband -> instrumental role (breadwinner). Wife -> expressive role (carer e.g in charge of primary socialisation and homemaker).

He believed these differences are biological and natural. Women = naturally nurturing + men = natural providers. This division benefits everyone in the family and wider society. 

The NEW RIGHT agrees with Parsons -> the division of labour is based on biological differences and this is the best way of organising family life. 

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Domestic division of labour


Bott sees two types of conjugal roles (roles within marriage):

Segregated conjugal roles = where the couple has separate, distinct roles e.g the male is the breadwinner whilst the female is the homemaker (similar to Parsons expressive/ instrumental roles). Leisure activities also tend to be separate. ! Young and Willmott (1962) found these segregate conjugal roles in working-class extended families in Bethnal Green in the 1950s. 

Joint conjugal roles = where the couple shares domestic tasks and leisure.

The symmetrical family -> Young and Willmott (1973) found a long-term trend towards joint conjugal roles and the symmetrical family (here roles are similar and equal) e.g:

- Most women now go to work / men help with housework + childcare ('the new man') and couples spend their leisure time together. 

Cause of trend = social changes during the 20th century e.g higher living standards, women working, etc. 

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Domestic division of labour


They reject the march of progress view as they see the family as patriarchal not equal or symmetrical.

Women still do most of the housework and childcare.

Oakley (1974) found no evidence of symmetry in domestic labour. She believes that Young and Willmott have exaggerated men's involvement in domestic work.

Boulton (1983) argues that we need to focus on who is responsible for tasks, not just who performs them.

Women are responsible for childcare, even if men help them.

Less than one in five husbands took a major part in childcare. 

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Are couples becoming more equal?

THE IMPACT OF PAID WORK: More women are now in full-time / part-time work (unlike in Oakley's study from the 70s where most women were full-time housewives).


Like Young's and Willmott's symmetrical families showed, this view believes that as more women go out and work, the division of labour at home is more equal. Men = more involved in domestic work whilst women = more involved in work outside the home. 

Sullivan (2000) analysed nationally representative data and found that women are doing less domestic work whilst men are doing more. There was an increase in the number of couples with an equal division of domestic labour. 

This reflects the changing attitudes in British society e.g the British Social Attitudes survey (2013) found a decrease in the belief that men should be breadwinners whilst women should be homemakers.

1984 -> 45% of men and 41% of women agreed with this view. / 2012 -> 13% of men and 12% of women agreed. 

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Are couples becoming more equal?


They reject the view that women working has created more equality- instead, they believe that is has forced women to carry a dual burden of paid and domestic work. 

British Social Attitudes survey (2013) showed that women do 2x as much work and that couples divide household tasks based on traditional gender stereotypes. Patterns in 2013 = patterns in 1990s. 

Responsibility for children: Boulton -> the mother is usually responsible for the children's wellbeing. This view is supported by many studies, e.g: Ferri and Smith (1996) fathers = responsible for childcare in less than 4% of the families.

Emotion work and the triple shift: Hochschild (2013) emotion work -> women are responsible for managing the family's emotions and feelings e.g solving fights. Duncombe and Marsden (1995) argue that women have to perform a 'triple shift' = housework, paid work and emotion work. 

Responsibility for 'quality time': Southernton (2011) women are responsible for managing the family's quality time but this is difficult in a 24/7 society and flexible working means that they are juggling fragmented time and multiple responsibilities. 

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Explaining the gender division of labour


Div. of labour = shaped by patriarchal cultural norms that shape gender roles. Women perform more domestic labour because that is what society expects them to do.

From this perspective, equality will only be achieved when attitudes, values, expectations, role models and socialization change. There is some evidence for this explanation:

Gershuny (1994) - couples are adapting to working fullt0ime and so the new norm that men should do more domestic work is being established.

Kan (2001) - found that younger men are doing more domestic work.

British Social Attitudes survey (2013) - found a long-term change in attitudes. 

Dunne (1999) - found that lesbian couples have a more equal division of labour because of the absence of traditional heterosexual 'gender scripts' (the norms set out for the genders). 

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Explaining the gender division of labour


This perspective states that as women earn less than men = economically rational that they should do more domestic work whilst men spend time outside the home earning money. 

From this persp. if women work and earn as much as their partners, we would expect to see men doing more domestic work. There is some evidence for this explanation:

Kan - for every £10,000 a year a woman earns, she does 2 hrs less of housework.

Arber and Ginn (1995) - better-paid (mc) women could buy products and services (e.g childcare) instead of carrying out the work themselves.

Ramos (2003) - found that when a woman is in full-time work and a man is unemployed, he does as much domestic labour as she does.

Sullivan shows that working full-time (instead of part-time) greatly impacts how much domestic work each partner does. 

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Same-sex couples


Radical feminists -> heterosexual relationships are patriarchal and unequal (even when women are in paid work).

They contrast them against same-sex relationships.

Dunne studied 37 lesbian couples and found a more equal division of labour.

Dunne uses the idea of gender scripts:

Heterosexuals are socialised into roles that create different gender identities.

Lesbians did not link household tasks to these roles (scripts) and were more open to negotiations + equality. 

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Resources and decision making

Kempson (1994) -> women in low-income families sacrificed their own needs to make ends meet. 

Many women see the money they spend on themselves as funds that should be spent on their children- even in homes with comfortable incomes resources are shared unequally and women are left in poverty. 


Men take more resources because they often earn more. Pahk and Vogler (1933) identified two types of control over income:

The allowance system -> men work and give their non-working wives an allowance which they budget from to meet the family's needs. The men hold onto the extra profits. 

Pooling -> partners work together and have joint access to income and responsibility for spending e.g a shared bank account. There has been an increase in pooling however Vogler found that men still tend to make major decisions. 

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Resources and decision making


Hardil (1997) studied 30 dual-career professional couples and found that the men often made major decisions. Edgell (1980) found that:

Very important decisions-> e.g finances/ changing house, etc. were made by men alone.

Important decisions -> e.g children's Edu. etc were made jointly (husband + wife).

Less important decisions -> e.g food purchases, etc. were made by women alone. 

There are two main explanations for these inequalities in decision making:

Material - men have more power because they earn more. Women are economically dependant on their husbands and therefore have less of a voice.

Cultural - feminists argue that gender role socialisation in a patriarchal society teaches us that men make decisions and that women must passively accept this. 

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Domestic violence

Domestic violence is too widespread to be the work of a few disturbed individuals. The British Crime Survey (BCS) estimated that there are 6.6 million assaults a year.

These attacks are not random, they follow social patterns with the most common one being that men tend to attack women.

Dobash and Dobash -> found that attacks often happened when the husband felt like his authority was challenged, thus, they argue that marriage legitimate violence against women by giving men authority and making them dependant. 

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Domestic violence


Official stats understate the magnitude of the problem for two main reasons:

1. Victims may be hesitant to report the assault. Yearnshire (1997) found that on average a woman faces 35 attacks before she makes a report. Domestic violence is the least likely crime to be reported. 

2. Police and prosecutors may be reluctant to record, investigate or prosecute cases. Cheal (1991) stated this is because state agencies are not prepared to be involved in family life. They make three assumptions about the family:

It is a private sphere and so access to state agencies should be limited.

- Family is a 'good thing' and therefore its dark side can be ignored.

- Individuals have freedom, they assume a woman can simply leave if she is being assaulted. This is untrue, most abused women are financially dependant on their husbands and unable to leave. 

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Domestic violence


Domestic violence = caused by the patriarchy.

Marriage -> a key institution of patriarchal societies + main source of women's oppression.

Men benefit from this oppression as through the family they can benefit from women's unpaid domestic labour and sexual services.

Domestic violence (or the threat of it) allows men to control women -> a patriarchal society is inevitable;e.

Men dominate the state, this explains why the police and courts fail to take domestic assaults seriously. 

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Domestic violence


Elliot (1996) rejects their perspective that claims all men benefit from the patriarchy as not all men are aggressive and many actively oppose domestic violence -> radical feminists ignore this.

R.F fail to explain why female violence (e.g child abuse and domestic violence against male/female partners) takes place.

They use the patriarchy to explain why most victims are women but they wrongly assume that all women are at risk of violence or which groups are at a bigger risk.

The Office for National Statistics (2014) suggested that some groups are at a bigger risk of domestic violence:

- Young women. / - Those is lowest social classes. / - Those on low-incomes. / - Those living in shared or rented accommodation. / - Those who abuse drugs or alcohol. / - Those with longterm illnesses. 

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Domestic violence


This perspective focuses on inequalities regarding income and housing to explain why some groups are at more risk than others. 

Women are not the only group at risk, others include:

- Children. / - Young people. / - The poor. / - Lower classes. / - Disabled people.

Wilkinson and Pickett (2010) argue that these patterns are caused by stress on the family as a result of social inequalities.

Families that lack resources (e.g low income, poor housing, etc) face more stress and are therefore at a higher risk of violence. 

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Domestic violence


Wilkinson and Pickett's approach shows how inequality creates stress and can trigger conflict within families.

Helps to explain why other groups, apart from women, are at risk of violence.

However, this perspective fails to explain why women are more likely to be victims than men. 

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Domestic violence


They believe that inequality causes violence.

Ansley (1972) describes wives as the 'takers of sh**'.

She argues that domestic violence = product of capitalism. 

Male workers are exploited at home -> they take out their anger on their wives. 

This helps to explain why male violence against females is the most common.

However, it fails to explain why not all workers are violent or why women resort to violence themselves. 

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