It’s a Man’s, and a Woman’s, World

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Occupational Gender-Atypicality and Housework Hours

Married men who enter predominately-female occupations increase housework hours.

The gender of housework

Since the 1960s, women have cut their hours of housework in half while men have doubled the time they spend on housework—yet women still do about two-thirds of household work. Given their often-burdensome nature, it is unsurprising that men are reluctant to take an equal share of household tasks. Moreover, despite women’s advances into paid employment, household labor is still expected of and associated with women more than with men.

In addition, while women may not feel especially feminine while washing dishes or dusting, some men may find traditionally-female tasks emasculating, potentially even expressing masculinity by avoiding housework or feigning incompetence. In fact, gender scholars have suggested that couples use household labor to compensate for a “failed” gender performance in another realm. In particular, men who work in predominately-female occupations, such as nursing, often find their masculinity threatened. While there are numerous ways that men might reestablish their manliness, scholars have suggested housework as an important venue for off-setting an emasculatingly-female job. But men’s participation in housework is contentious and women might not tolerate their husbands shirking chores. Assuming the men want to preserve their relationship, it might be safer to compensate for a “female job” by taking up a manly hobby.

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Alternatively, men’s change to a predominately-female job might trigger the couple to reevaluate gender stereotypes and this might result in a more equal division of household labor. Performing traditionally-female tasks at work might cause men to reject stereotypes that label certain chores as male or female or might kindle an interest in related activities, including household labor. Working in a predominately-female occupation might also make men more empathetic to their wives. It would be difficult to trivialize women’s paid employment while working in a “woman’s job” and exposure to female colleagues might make men aware of women’s disproportionate housework burden. This empathy might cause men to take on household tasks previously performed by their wives.

Occupational change and housework hours

In this study I follow individual’s occupational changes over time and examine how these job changes are related to changes in housework hours. By comparing the same man before and after he changes jobs I am able to control for personal traits such as gender egalitarianism that might influence men to do more housework and also make them more likely to enter traditionally-female occupations. I also control for changes in income, hours, and other job characteristics.

Moving from a predominately-male occupation into a predominately-female occupation increases married men’s housework hours by almost one and a half hours. Such an occupational change does not significantly increase single men’s housework hours. That single men are unaffected suggests that some relationship-level explanation is needed—the change in housework hours arises from interactions between spouses. Indeed, when men switch from predominately-male jobs to more heavily-female jobs, their wives begin to do less housework. Married women’s occupational changes are also linked to changes in the couple’s division of household labor, although single women’s occupation is unrelated to their housework hours. When married women move from a predominately-male occupation into a predominately-female occupation, the women do about 35 minutes more housework and their husbands do about 25 minutes less housework. Thus, when either spouse moves into a more gender-typical occupation (one with a large share of workers of their own sex) the couple’s division of housework becomes more traditional. When either spouse moves into a less gender-typical occupation the division of housework becomes more egalitarian.

Taken together, this suggests that non-traditional occupational choices cause couples to reject previously-held gender stereotypes—this explanation is able to account for the changes in housework hours that are associated with both his and her job changes. However, it seems that these gendered expectations are fundamentally interactional because occupational changes are unrelated to single women’s and men’s housework hours. Rather, occupational sex composition seems to alter the gendered nature of task allocation between spouses.

Elizabeth Aura McClintock, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Notre Dame.

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