One of the main institutions in society is found within the household and is popularly known as “The Family”. It is here, in the family, where the commencement of society takes place. It is amongst this unit that the origin of women’s oppression began with the constant power struggle between man and woman. With the “nuclear family” slowly being thrown out the window and the new “dual-earner” family creeping in to takes Its place, it’s no wonder that women’s positions have changed radically over the past one hundred years. The key work here to this current position, is although women’s position has changed, their workload has not.
With this radical change many issues can be addressed, particularly, to the women’s role and how it has remained fairly constant over the years. A closer examination will look at the development of gender inequality within the family as a result of the ever-changing issue. A second issue that needs to be inspected is that the family roles have changed in regards to family make-up as women have moved into the work force. This growing capital effort to increase standards of living by pushing every family member into the paid labor force has taken a toll on the family unit. The final issue that will be investigated in this report is how the traditional sex roles have remained constant, even with women’s ever-changing family position over the years.

For decades, commencing back to the time when patriarchy was the “norm” and women were their husband’s property, men have oppressed women. This ideology of patriarchy existed way before it was ever examined by sociologists and it was accepted as a natural or biological way of living. It wasn’t until the 1960’s when feminist groups began to explore patriarchy and at the same time began to exploit it, that patriarchy was established. Feminists at that time, and even still today, believe that patriarchy operates to achieve and maintain gender inequality and is the essential key to women’s present subordination. Not only does patriarchy exist in the public domain of the paid labor force, but also in the private domain of the household, or better yet, the family.

With patriarchy by its side, gender inequality has developed into one of the biggest controversies amongst sociologists, feminist groups, and women. In modern day society women are working their way into the labor force, and “expanding their roles to include working outside the home as well as being wives and mothers” (Kaufman, 1999, 440). As women are moving into the paid labor force, they “continue to work longer hours than do their husbands on household tasks, and there is little evidence that men’s proportionate share of the family work has changed much during the past decade or so” (Blair, 1991, 91). Although women are moving into the paid labor force at a fairly fast pace, according to Kaufman, “men’s involvement in domestic roles has increased but at a slower pace than women’s entrance into the labor market” (Kaufman, 1999, 440). Women’s entrance into the labor market evolved rather rapidly from approximately less than 30% in the 1960’s to currently more than 45% of women are in the paid labor force” (Levin, class note, Women’s Studies).

There are many reasons for the increase of women’s labor force participation. The main fact being that the North American standard of living has increased drastically in the past decades, and that double-incomes are needed in order to survive. Along with the increase in standard of living, divorce rates are increasing leaving women with children to support on their own, and therefore, women must find outside work. There are also fewer children to raise, therefore, women have more time to work and raise their children. Also, there is a great change in societal attitudes that push women into the work force. Finally, with pay equity policies having been established, it is much easier for women to find work that will pay enough to support her and her family.
Historical factors have weighed heavily on women’s current status. In the nineteenth century, attitudes toward women were very different to the present attitudes placed upon them now. In the nineteenth century, there was a great need for women to work. Working class women had jobs in clothing factories, or worked as seamstress. Their work was more domestic-related. Middle class women were not expected to work. There were some jobs, but they were very limited. Middle class women were more expected to teach, to support themselves, until they found a husband. During this time, there was a lower value place on a women’s work than that of a man’s. Therefore, women were paid less to do the same work as men were. This lower value on women’s work accounted for androcentric biases, which put men at a higher standing in their work. Men were often paid more for dangerous, dirty, and physical work such as mining. On the contrary, women who worked, per say as nurses whom also did heavy lifting and dirty work, were undervalued and underpaid. These biases brought into play occupational segregation, which implied that men and women tend to do different jobs because of their gender. According to Luhaorg and Zivian, “women have remained concentrated in predominately female occupations, i.e., clerical, sales, and service occupations, while men enjoy a much more heterogeneous occupational structure; no major occupational category being dominant” (Luhaorg, 1995, 608).

Luckily for women, in the 1980’s, federal law declared solutions to their two major problems involving the work force. Pay equity was established to solve the problem of the wage gap, which enforced that people who work the exact same jobs were to earn the exact same pay. The second solution that was established by the government was employment equity, which helped with occupational segregation and gave employers a set of strategies to follow in order to provide women the same opportunities in the labor market as men.

With these regulations set into place, women moved into the work force during the 1980’s at full force, and have continued to do so. Not only did this put pressure on the paid labor force, but it also put pressure on the family unit. In order to carry out its daily functions as a family, the modern family depends heavily on all the institutions of a society for support. Whereas in the past, the family was an independent unit that depended on nothing and no one.

With this in mind, the family and the “fact that the majority of families have both spouses working outside the home means that dual-earners and dual-career families” are becoming the norm in American society” (Mintz, 1996, 805). Indeed, there are many positive outcomes to having both spouses in the paid labor force, but at the same time there are many “stresses for these families” (Mintz, 1996, 805). According to Mintz, “these stresses usually revolve around balancing the demand of the paid labor and the demand of the family labor” (Mintz, 1996, 805).

Throughout the years, the family unit has changed drastically. With “dual earner” families being the most popular types of families. Three types of “dual earner” family ideologies were identified by Lye. Those three are the Traditional, Modern, and Egalitarian. As the trend of double income family household increases, “the breakdown of the traditional system” (Lye, 1993, 157) due to women entering the paid labor force has had profound transformation with respect to family life and gender roles.

The Traditional family as identified by Mintz and Mahalik is described briefly as “marriage based on a form on benevolent male dominance couple with clearly specialized roles that are assigned on the basis of gender” (Mintz and Mahalik, 1996, 806). To further explain this, the traditional family is a woman who identifies with her activities at home and the man bases his identification on his paid work. Generally, the wife is to have less power than her husband does in relation to all aspects of their marriage.

The second type of family, the Egalitarian Family, is described by Mintz and Mahalik as a “rejection of both of these ideas” (Mintz & Mahalik, 1996, 806) referring to the traditional family. Further explained, the Egalitarian Family is the husband and wife identifying with the same sphere, home and work, or identifying with the same balance between the two spheres of home and work. In this family relationship, the power amongst both the man and the woman is to be distributed evenly, and the same value is to be held upon both husband and wife’s paid and unpaid work.

The third type of family is the Modern Family. Mintz and Mahalik describe this type of family as “representing a middle position within the marriage” (Mintz & Mahalik, 1996, 806). The modern family, also known as the transitional family, is further explained by a wife who is to identify with activities both related to paid and unpaid labor, whereas the husband is to relate his identification to strictly his paid work.

With the explanation of these three types of families, it is easy to say that along with the types of families changing, the roles of the family have also changed. Taking a closer look at women’s roles, and comparing them to men’s roles, Lye said that “changing family and gender role attitudes are indicative of a weakening of traditional normative constraints that used to offer the well-defined adult roles of husband-father-breadwinner and wife-mother-homemaker so that diverse range of adult roles are now acceptable and coexist.” Referring to the different types of families above, Lye clearly explains that it is also possible to have many different types of family roles and expectations working together in the same familial. Lye also believes that “the effects of men’s and women’s attitudes vary according to their spouse’s attitudes and to be greater where husbands and wives disagree” (Lye 1993, 160). Therefore, men and women’s roles strongly depend on the expectations and attitudes that they have set in regards to family roles or gender roles. “Having different views concerning family life reduces marital satisfaction of the balancing” (Lye, 1993, 183). It is locating an equilibrium that couples find difficult to do in regards to family life and gender roles.

Even today as women are entering the workforce, Kaufman found that “wives do four-fifths of the cooking, laundry, and shopping as well as two-thirds of the child care, cleaning, and dishwashing” (Kaufman, 1999, 440). For example, Blair & Lichter found that “wives perform 96% of the cooking, 92% of the dishwashing, 90% of the vacuuming, 94% of the bed making, and 94% of the diapering of children” (Blair, 1991, 93). At the other end of the scale, Blair and Lichter found that “husbands performed 86% of household repairs, 80% of the disciplining of children, 75% of the lawn mowing, and 77% of the snow shoveling” (Blair, 1991, 93).
These percentages seem rather irrelevant due to the fact that division of household labor is much more than who does what. Blair and Lichter discuss three prominent theories of the division of household labor. They are time availability, power theory, and gender role.

The theory of time availability relates to the fact that if a spouse is working full-time outside the home, it is more difficult for he or she to perform the daily household tasks. Blair and Lichter described this theory as “the partner with the most available time presumably will assume the greatest share of household duties.” Although this theory seems irrelevant in the explanation of why men do less work in the household, it does not explain why women are still doing the same amount even when she works the same hours as her husband.

The power theory is a gender segregated theory that suggests that because women are of lower status to their husband, in regards to paid labor force earnings, the men’s paid labor force job is more prestigious than his wife’s. Blair and Lichter raise an issue when they say that “family power, which is typically measured by the personal resource of each spouse may also affect the allocation of domestic tasks by reinforcing traditional assignments of tasks by gender” (Blair, 1991, 94). Although this theory does make sense, family power is not always divided by who makes more money.

The third theory identified by Blair and Lichter is the gender role ideology, and the fact that by nature women are socialized to perform related to tasks to their femininity, as well as men are raised to perform related tasked to their masculinity. This theory is more related to “traditional sex roles” of the expressive wife and the instrumental husband. Blair and Lichter report that “females are more likely to be assigned to traditional female orientated tasks, such as cleaning, washing, and cooking” (Blair, 1991, 94). Whereas men are more likely to perform male dominated tasks such as snow shoveling, taking out the garbage, car repairs, lawn mowing, and household repairs.

In addition to these three theories, the personal satisfaction that one receives from the household labor can also be applied. It is expected that generally wives receive greater satisfaction from particular household task performed, and according to Pittman’s article “about one third of men agreed that it was not their own household standards that were being performed but indeed it was actually the standards of their wives” (Pittman et al., 1999, 748). It is common knowledge that women care more about the physical appearance of their household than men do. So therefore, it is probable that women are still doing a majority of the domestic work on top of her paid work, because she is simply more concerned with her home’s appearance.

“Women, even those employed full time – continue to work longer hours than do their husbands on household tasks” (Blair, 1991, 91). This is true even today, because they are pressured by the traditional sex roles and attitudes that continue to reinforce the conventional definition of men and women’s work in today’s society. Women have been performing majority of household tasks for decades, and they will continue to do so until domestic work becomes a paid labor.


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