The Household Division of Domestic Labor as a Process
The project analyzed the distribution of domestic work among couples as a process, based on available longitudinal data sets. In doing so, we wanted to identify opportunities and limitations of these data sets.
As regards content, changes over time in the division of labour among the couple, as well as time-related causal mechanisms of these processes of change were in the centre of our research. These quantitative studies were supplemented by a qualitative pilot study on the division of labour during the transition to parenthood. As a co-opted accompanying project this study has been a part of the DFG Priority Programme 1161 on the Panel Analysis of Intimate Relationships and Family Dynamics in Germany.
Objectives of the project
- description of changes in the division of labour (e.g., scope and segregation of these activities) in the course of intimate relationships and family development;
- dynamic investigation in and improvement of theories and mechanisms for explaining the trajectory patterns of the division of housework in a longitudinal perspective;
- secondary analysis of existing quantitative longitudinal data sets (German Socio-economic Panel, Bamberg Panel Study on Married Couples, Bamberg Panel Study on Cohabiting Couples) with regard to content and methodological limitations of the analysis of intra-household division of labour;
- conducting an explorative qualitative pilot study for examining the dynamics of decision-making processes on the division of labour among (married) couples; and
- development of novel, theory-based quantitative and qualitative instruments for longitudinal studies for investigating the intra-household division of labour as part of the DFG Priority Programme 1161.
Summary of the most relevant findings
- Economic theories, e.g., the economic theory of the family or bargaining models, are not conclusive for explaining the dynamics of the division of domestic work. None of the resources regarded as being important by these theories (e.g., investment in human capital, participation in the labour market, or income) wielded considerable impact on changes in division arrangements. Rather, it seemed that other factors, e.g., mental models of the family , gender-specific roles and norms, largely influenced the process of the division of labour. This seemed to be the case in both domestic work and paid work.
- At the outset of marriage, over one half of the married couples who participated in the Bamberg Panel Study on Married Couples performed an equal division of labour. In the course of marriage, these arrangements systematically shifted towards a traditional division of labour: after 14 years of marriage, 85 % of the couples had a traditional distribution of labour, independent of their respective constellations of resources.
- Our research shows that the probability of changes in the division of labour steadily decreases in the course of the duration of the relationship or marriage, regardless of the direction of such a change. According to our findings, effects of inertia, i.e., processes of habituation to certain arrangements, obviously have a major impact on changes in the division of work in the household.
- After child birth women tend to take over a larger share of domestic work, whereas men largely reduce their own share. Thus, the transition to parenthood slows down developments towards an equal division of labour or even reverses this process among many couples. Then, this reinforces the process of habituation to traditional, often latent, structures of the division of labour.
The findings drawn from our resarch project constitute an important contribution to current research on the distribution of domestic work in couples. Our findings can be regarded as strong evidence for the fruitfulness of a process perspective on intra-household division of labour. In the future, the theory-based analysis of trajectory patterns should increasingly take centre stage in research on the distribution of domestic work. Further explanation is needed, in particular for those findings referring to the gender specificity of division of labour arrangements that are subjected to a relative high degree of inertia.
Contribution to the DFG Priority Programme 1161
In addition to the project’s main objectives, we provided an essential contribution to the test- panel project (PAIRFAM mini-panel) by developing instruments for the examination of domestic division of labour. In dealing with current studies on the measurement of the division of labour in the household, we developed both a time use diary and a time estimation instrument. Both devices were employed in the first and the third waves, respectively, of the test panel. The diary meets international standards in time use research (cf. the Multinational Time Use Study). The said time estimation instrument is geared to the method used by the Socio-economic Panel (SOEP), but it also provides the option to record time use in minutes. Thus, this is a substantial improvement in contrast to the SOEP that only allows for recording full hours. Generally speaking, both the diaries and the time estimation instrument have been applied successfully in the pre-study for the Panel on Intimate Relationships and Family Dynamics. Both instruments have proven to be useful and viable.
The ifb Time Use Study
The instruments mentioned above have also been thoroughly tested during various seminars at the University of Bamberg, emphasising their methodological viability. For doing so, a data set consisting of 300 couples has been collected in the meantime. This survey also proved that these instruments are very efficient in field work.
The methological studies conducting on the interrelation between diary and time estimation data proved to be an important contribution to the international empirical time use research. Following the few international empirical studies available on the interrelation between diaries and time estimation, we showed that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the two measurement methods are not arbitrarily interchangeable. The conclusion that should be drawn for time use research is that the selection of the "dependent variable" could have a decisive impact on the results of qualitative time use analyses. Therefore, a thorough theoretical reflection should precede this choice.