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Gender and the division of household labour

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1691 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This paper provides a review on ‘Review Paper: Erikson, R (2005) why emotion work matters: Gender and the division of household labour’. The paper is examined in the light of recent academic discussions about the social scientific problems that emotions pose when examined in specific context. Erikson explains why biological sex remains the primary predictor of behavioural emotional patterns between men and women. Empirical research was conducted over 335 men and women sample base.

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Erikson considers that socio-emotional behaviour has been an essential characteristic of married life since the mid twentieth century. Furthermore, those women have had the bulk of the burden of performing the household work even when working full-time and looking after the family. This relationship between household labour allocations has helped in identifying gender identity. Despite advances in social science theory it is considered that little research has been accomplished in understanding the emotional behaviour in the gender division of household labour. Erikson put forward the view that ‘the division of household labour varies according to culturally based contradictions of gender’ (Erikson 2005)

Recent research in the area of stress has demonstrated different emotional responses from the parents. Particular focus has been placed upon the emotions of depression and anxiety. Anger is considered to be a highly social emotion and can manifest itself between those individuals who do not have enough personal space or share limited resources. As the division of household labour is mostly unequal i.e. the women perform most of the household duties and look after the children; women as such are more prone to emotions of frustration and anger. This in turn can lead towards depression where there is a feeling of injustice, lack of support and a sense of isolation. The emotions increase where the male partner does not assume an equitable share of the burden of responsibility. (Jan E. Stets 2007)

Socioemotional behaviour in marriage

Erikson pointed out that the duties of women, in performing household tasks and looking after the children, was historically looked at as a female obligation in looking after and loving their husbands. It was Daniels in 1987 that made the first claim that women were not recognized for these additional duties and performance of domestic chores and as such reduced both their status in society and sense of personal identity. This in turn leads to invalidation of the female contribution and perpetuates the concept of gender inequality.

Erikson stated that ‘the idea that husbands and wives may have to work at caring and intimacy, contradicts what many believe about love and marriage’. The concept of expressing empathy, caring and listening to another’s point of view represents emotional response of the greatest magnitude. The relationships between spouses behaviour is a complex one. This is particularly so in the formative years of marital partnerships. The husband’s socio-emotive behaviour has a powerful impact on the working of a marital relationship. Research has indicated that a negative response from the husband produces dissatisfaction from the wife; this in turn increases the negativity of the husband and creates a sort of vicious circle. Hence early in the marriage the emotional behavioural characteristics of each partner have to be re-examined in order to sustain a longer term marital relationship. Very often the marital well-being of wives was linked to the wives understanding of their husbands. (Hinde 1997)


Although historically the female has remained the primary allocator of family work performance; reflecting the way in which the tasks are allocated and the conceptualisation of self-identity. Times are changing and a far more relative resource model is becoming adopted. This looking much more towards satisfaction of economic conditions. The spouse who brings more resources to the marital relationship has increased bargaining power and as such is able to ‘buy out’ of the marital household responsibilities. As women are now taking on more influential and dominant roles at work this no longer always skews in the favour of the male. Hence more people who are performing external paid work roles have less time to spend on domestic chores. Recent studies have shown that women tend to have greater resilience than men and continue to perform the majority of the household tasks. In some regards this empowers women feeling a greater sense of responsibility towards their family.

Erikson commented that those ‘Researchers using gender construction theory propose that the gendered allocation of household labour persists because it signals the extent to which husbands and wives have constructed gender appropriately..’ (Erikson 2005). Construction theory really examines gender in terms of social relations and not as the characteristics of individuals. As such it does not rest upon a stable biological platform but rather produced through social construction. Gender construction is therefore built into every aspect of social life in society i.e. family, politics, religion etc. This generates certain expectations in both male and female roles; this in turn has created role reversals that have reflected a change of values in society. (Potuchek 1997)


Within the general claims to male dominance in social theory, three challenges have emerged (i) the criticism against that of female knowledge and its’ inability to demonstrate adequate work that illustrates scientific or unbiased knowledge. This resulted in feminists coming under scrutiny in order to demonstrate abilities to rationalise knowledge, perform verification, subjectivity and freedom from political bias. Secondly, how different influences shaped women’s lives. Examples cited included that of “cultural divisions, social divisions and power relations” (Caroline RamazanoÇlu 2002). The danger here is one of stereotyping and simply branding women as one gender that provides a uniform result. The third challenge intertwines that of knowledge and gender whereby in essence women are taken for granted. Since 1993 this has caused feminists to re-evaluate the position and rewrite much of the subject matter.

In 1993 Sandra Harding provided insight into the difference between that of Method, Methodology and Epistemology. She equated Epistemology to that of a theory of knowledge with the objective of answering specific questions. Further, that there are two distinct epistemologies namely that of a ‘Feminist empiricism’ and a ‘Feminist Standpoint’. The empirical part is that where a response is provided to bias and traditional responses. Whereas, standpoint refers to a specific feminist opinion founded upon an explanation of knowledge. In order to understand and complete a feminist standpoint the reader needs to become more involved with the “intellectual and political struggles that a women’s experience is built upon.” (Stanley 1990).

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Historically the most common expression of female action has been associated with that of liberation and the emancipation of women. This has ranged from the concept of radical insistence, to clarifying the purpose of research and ultimately to transformation in terms of political action. It was Maria Mies that proposed feminist research should be consistent with the overall political goals and aspirations of women. Hence, there needs to be a full integration of social and political; action appropriate to the emancipation of women. (Mary Margaret Fonow 1991).


Marriage is considered a social contract, primarily because the issues that are involved extend beyond the concerns of purely the particular individuals. The children of the married couples are the future generations of which the whole society depends. In essence, the termination of the marriage contract is either a legal consideration or by death. In more modern marriages parties often seek legal contract terms that protect their financial assets i.e. in the event of separation or divorce. These are often referred to as ‘premarital or prenuptial agreements’. This type of arrangement is it’s often more common amongst wealthy or affluent couples, and second marriages. (Sheridan, 2010)

Modern society poses numerous challenges upon a successful marriage. One of the most demanding is that of financial hardship. That might be brought on by a job loss or physical illness, leaving one’s spouse to cope with the problem. This is often the situation where marital communications breakdown, when in fact it is the most important time for working as a team and communicating with one another. Another important issue is the loss of self-image, where either weight gain or loss occurs. [The concept of obesity or anorexic] this can lead to bouts of depression and subsequent illness. Another factor is dealing with family relationships, and this is particularly trying in new marriages. The concept of dealing with intervention and demands by in-laws, and having to deal with expectations that posed a strain on the marriage. The concept of long-term illness, disability or major illness can impose a tremendous strain on the spouse who is working and equally having to look after their partner. (Long, 2007)


In general terms the challenges in marriage relate to living and existing. The most import and aspect on survival in marriage is the ability to work as a team and communicate with one another. In this way, you’re able to support one another and cope with most situations. There is also the concept of trust and care between partners and betrayal of such can be very hard to recover.



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