Editorial Board: Editor: George H. Conklin, North Carolina Central University Board: Bob Davis, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University Richard Dixon, UNC-Wilmington Ken Land, Duke University Miles Simpson, North Carolina Central University Ron Wimberley, N.C. State University Robert Wortham, North Carolina Central University
Editorial Assistants John W.M. Russell, Technical Consultant Austin W. Ashe North Carolina Central University
Volume 7, Number 1
The Impact of Occupational Status on Household Chore Hours among Dual Earner Couples
Danielle Taana Smith
Throughout most of the 20th century, cleaning the house was viewed as "women's work," in a division of labor that saw the traditional role of the male as a provider or worker outside of the home. The very notion was idyllic, a product of the mythology of the affluent and middle classes, because many of the wives and daughters of working class and poor families always needed to earn money outside of the home. Often, particularly in African American, Latino and immigrant households, that meant women had few options but to serve double-duty. They took care of the homes and children of their employers, and then after work took care of their own.
In the 21st century, the American economy, similar to other western industrialized economies, is an increasingly knowledge-based economy, with professional, managerial and technical expertise in high demand. At the same time, services industries are expanding, although jobs such as food preparation and domestic services remain relatively low paying. These jobs cater to professionals who are more able to afford these services than the workers who actually perform the work. Socio-economic differences are dramatic between professional and non-professional workers. In 2005, the proportion of hourly-paid workers whose earnings were reported at or below minimum wage ($5.15) ranged from less than 1% for employees in management, professional, and related occupations, to approximately 8% for workers in service occupations. Further, service occupations, primarily in food service jobs, accounted for about three in four workers earning $5.15 or less (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2006). Gender remains closely associated with wage-based socio-economic inequality, as minimum wage occupations tend to have more females than males (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2006). While gender inequalities have declined significantly across job categories (Blau and Kahn, 2000; Reskin, 1993), service jobs remain female dominated, and these are the occupations in which wages are being eroded and economic mobility is less likely.
As the workforce has been transformed due to women's labor force participation and earnings increases, the divisions of labor within households have also undergone significant transformations. As women work more, particularly in professional/managerial occupations, and achieve increasing occupational status and income, their hours spent on housework have declined. Changes in the household division of labor are primarily due to declines in the amount of time that women spend on housework (Van der Lippe et al., 2004). Yet few studies have examined housework hours for married couples based on occupational differences. Women's representation in well-paid professions is increasing at the same time that many low-paying service industries are dominated by female labor.
Research has consistently shown that as women work outside of the home, their time spent on housework has declined. In this study, we extend this finding by examining how the amount of time that married couples spend doing housework is impacted by their occupational status.
Many previous studies have examined
men's and women's time spent on household chores. These studies show that
the total number of hours spent on household labor has steadily declined
(Artis and Pavalko, 2003), particularly due to the dramatic increase in
women employed in the paid labor force (Bianchi et al.,2000; Kamo
and Cohen, 1998; Presser, 1994; Shelton, 1990). The classic role specialization
theory by Becker et al. (1977) assumes that a marriage is more stable
when a husband and wife are each specialized in their tasks, mostly a husband
in labor market skills and a wife in domestic skills. We apply role
specialization theory to examine how time spent doing housework by married
couples may vary by occupational status. Following the theory, for women
who are in professional occupations, it makes economic sense in concentrating
their time in the workforce rather than on doing housework.
Data and Methods
The data used for our study is the 2nd wave of the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH). The first wave of the NSFH was collected between 1987 and 1988 with the original sample of 13,007 individuals. The second wave of the NSFH is the five year follow-up of the original sample collected between 1992 and 1994, with a sample size of 10,007 individuals. The NSFH includes respondents' demographic characteristics, life-history, employment information, and household chores information (Sweet, Bumpass, and Call, 1988). The NSFH is the most appropriate data set since it contains our key variables of household chore hours by husband and wife and their occupational status. The NSFH data includes more detailed information of household chores and is more recent than much data used by researchers in the field (Hersch and Stratton, 2002). Our analyses include only those respondents who were married and both employed at the time of the Wave 2 survey. The final sample size is 2,522 couples.
The dependent variable is hours
spent weekly on household chores. The NSFH asked nine questions related
to household task hours spent on: doing dishes, meal preparations,
shopping for food, laundry and ironing, paying bills, cleaning house, driving,
auto maintenance, and outdoor maintenance. These nine items are combined
to measure household chore hours. We use self-claimed chore hours
for each spouse's chore hours and we combine husband's and wife's self-claimed
hours for our couple level analyses.
The descriptive statistics of our sample are presented in Table 1.
For employed wives, the mean household chore hours are about 33 hours per week, and the mean work hours is 36 hours with a mean annual income of $22,000. The mean occupational SEI for wives is 38.99. An occupation close to the mean SEI is insurance adjuster. For employed husbands, the mean household chore hours are nearly 20 hours, and the mean work hours is 46.5 hours per week with a mean annual income of 38,500 dollars. The mean occupational SEI for husbands is 39.68 which is equivalent to aircraft mechanics and manufacturing managers. Our results reveal that among employed couples, wives spend significantly longer hours on household chores and significantly shorter hours in the labor force, as compared to husbands. Also, wives earn significantly less than husbands. The occupational SEI is significantly higher for husbands than for wives.
We used OLS regression analyses to estimate weekly household chore hours (Tables 2 and 3).
*p<.05, **p<.01, ***P<.001
*p<.05, **p<.01, ***P<.001
The first model shows the effect of occupational SEI on wives' household chore hours without controlling for other variables. As expected, there is a negative relationship between household chore hours and occupational SEI, indicating that the higher an occupational status is, the shorter the number of hours spent on household chores is among wives. Thus, when we compare physicians (SEI = 80.53) and registered nurses (SEI = 61.07), the household chore hour difference is 5.64 hours per week. The expected difference between physicians and bank tellers (SEI = 24.79) is nearly 16 hours per week. The negative impact of occupational SEI is still detected when the control variables are added to the model. We also estimated husbands' weekly household chore hours. Our results show that without controlling for other variables, husbands' household chore hours also negatively relate to their occupational SEI. However, the effect of occupational SEI disappeared when other variables were added to the model. The results from the analysis with all control variables show that there are no differences in household chore hours by occupational SEI among husbands. Our findings support our hypothesis that status differences are relevant for the amount of time that married women spend doing housework.
We further tested gender differences on household chore hours by combining two groups and by adding a gender variable. We find that other things being equal, wives spend nearly 11 hours more on household chores than husbands do (result not shown). Finally, the race variable is also significant for husbands. In the analysis, we found that white husbands do less housework than their non-white counterparts.
Lastly, we analyzed their household chore hours as a couple. The results of couple level analyses are presented in Table 4.
*p<.05, **p<.01, ***p<.001
Our base model estimates the effect of couples' occupational SEI on household chore hours. The results show significantly fewer hours on household chores for a higher occupational SEI for both husbands and wives. When both husband and wife are in a high occupational SEI, their total household chore hours are significantly fewer hours than couples in a lower occupational SEI. In order to determine the effect of occupational SEI after controlling for other variables, we added other variables to the model.
The last two columns of Table 4 show the results. Even when the control variables were added, the effect of occupational SEI remains significant for both husbands and wives. If a couple is both physicians, their expected household chore hours are approximately 14 hours fewer than a couple who are both bank tellers. A couple's race also has a significant effect; we found that white couples do less housework than their non-white counterparts.
Our research examined household chore hours of dual-earner couples with emphasis on their occupational status. We expected that couples in higher status occupations spend fewer hours on household chores, compared to couples in lower status occupations. In our study, when wives and husbands are examined separately, we found that occupation is not a significant predictor of household chore hours for husbands. This finding suggests that occupational status and household chores do not relate when income and work hours are adjusted for husbands.
In contrast, wives who work longer hours and who earn higher income spend fewer hours on household chores. These findings are consistent with previous research showing that wives with longer work hours and/or are high earners spend fewer hours on household chores (Bergen, 1991; Bianchi, et al., 2000). Although wives' work hours in the labor force and income negatively relate to their chore hours, husbands' income and work hours little affect husbands' household chore hours. These findings are also consistent with previous research regarding wives' 'second shift' work (Hochschild, 1989). What is missing in this picture is to consider their chore hours as a couple, since wives' second shift work may well relate to their husbands' chore hours. Ferree (1991) points out that wives' household work is exaggerated without consideration of husbands' participation.
However, there is also some evidence that the amount of housework affects wages (Hersch and Stratton, 2002). Hersch and Stratton find that regardless of marital status, housework has a negative effect on wages. They suggest that the negative effect is primarily due to typically female housework, which is more likely to consist of daily and time-consuming activities. Thus, they conclude that housework may interfere with labor market productivity, with stronger effects for women.
When household chore hours are examined at a couple level, our findings show that couples' occupational status does matter. Overall findings are that couples in higher status occupations spend fewer hours on household chores than couples in lower status occupations; thus we argue that household work is not only an issue of gender inequality, but also it is an issue of class inequality. This is an important finding since occupational differences are masked when wives and husbands are examined separately. Our findings indirectly support Cohen's (1998) study which finds reduced household burdens among high occupational status couples. Cohen (1998) examined differences in household expenditure on housekeeping and eating out by occupational status and other factors to conclude that class differences do exist, and our research supplements his study by examining chore hours differences by occupational status.
Perry-Jenkins and Folk (1994) also point out class differences in household chores. Their study found that middle-class wives do less, in terms of the proportion of household work, than working class wives and they state that only examining husbands' class does not unveil these class differences. Our findings also show an important issue raised by Perry-Jenkins (1988), who states that family research needs to shift focus from an individual level analysis to a couple level analysis.
In our analysis, the race variable is significant for husbands; we find that weekly, white men spend about 4 hours less on household work than do non-white men. The finding is the same for couples; white couples spend about 4 hours less per week on household work than do non-white couples.
Our results are consistent with previous findings on differences in the household division of labor based on race and ethnicity. In an examination of the household division of labor among black and white couples, Orbuch and Eyster (1997) found that white husbands are significantly less likely to participate in traditionally feminine tasks at home, including taking care of children. Similarly, John and Shelton (1997) studied the gendered context of household labor among blacks and whites, and also found that black men spend significantly longer hours on household work than do white men. Further comparing the division of housework between black and white couples, Kamo and Cohen (1998) found that black men spend longer hours on housework (this measure does not include child care) than white men, and suggest that their finding is possibly due to more egalitarian families among black couples than white couples. Finally, in a study of working class Mexican American women, Herrera and DelCampo (1995) examined dual-earner Mexican American families. They found that most wives expected that their husbands are also involved in housework and child care.
The findings of greater inequities in the household division of labor for white couples than for African American, Hispanic and other non-white couples can also be explained using Becker's (1977) role specialization theory, since the labor force participation of women of color has historically been vital for the economic well-being of their families. For example, as compared with white women, African American and Hispanic women have a longer history of labor force participation based on economic necessity. Although their employment is typically less secure and lower paying than that of white women, the bread winner role is not primarily relegated to African American and Hispanic men.
Time spent on housework has declined for married couples who work. Our study makes the link between the types of jobs couples perform and their time spent doing housework. Women workers in services industries are underemployed and underpaid as compared with their counterparts in professional jobs, leading to worsening economic conditions for these women. These conditions are compounded by race and ethnicity, as it is typically women of color who perform these jobs. Women who work in non-professional and non-managerial occupations also spend more time doing housework than women with professional jobs. Thus, we argue that declining gender inequalities in the home and workplace are not representative of all women. Instead, they are more representative of middle class and affluent women. Economic transformations are contributing to increasing rates of poverty for full-time workers who are already poor.
Our findings have implications for family stability among the less affluent as they experience attenuated social and economic stresses. Our study is limited in that we could not directly examine households' ability to purchase domestic services, as this is not examined in the NSFH. Although we could not directly determine the level of domestic purchasing by professionals, we assume that purchasing these services is increasing, which is consistent with the U.S. Census report (2006) that service industries are expanding.
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