- The notion of ‘women’s work’ still deeply embedded in today’s society
- Men’s choice of housework centred around machinery and perceived physical strength
- Some household tasks have ‘shifted’ over the years
A fascinating study by an academic at Aston University has revealed that women still do certain traditional tasks within the home.
The research by Dr Emily Christopher, a lecturer in sociology and policy, found that ‘woman-type’ tasks often involve multi-tasking while men’s roles often include solo duties such as mowing the lawn.
Dr Christopher, whose research focuses on the reproduction of gender inequalities in paid and unpaid work, spoke about her study in the latest episode of the 'Society matters' podcast series, presented by journalist Steve Dyson.
The episode is sub-titled 'Did you iron my shirt? Why household work, and who does it, matters'.
Dr Christopher explained that men are doing much more household work than they did 50 years ago, and that there was “general agreement” among the couples she interviewed that household work should be shared.
The lecturer, who invited couples to assign ‘task cards’ during interviews in their homes, said past research found that women still perform the ‘lion’s share’ of household work.
This, she said, followed on from the “age old idea” of women being more caring and nurturing which was “deeply embedded in the way society thinks”.
While some tasks were still more likely to be done by women, some had shifted over time.
Tasks still “overwhelmingly gendered” today include women remembering birthdays, organising presents, and remembering whether a child needs PE kit or money for a cake sale, all the cognitive labour of household management.
She said: “The problem is it’s invisible, so it isn’t recognised as work.”
Dr Christopher said that men tend to do the ironing if they find it “enjoyable”, often while listening to football or music, or if they have “particular standards”, such as creases in their sleeves.
However, some women choose ironing as a “form of protest”, doing their own and their children’s clothes but refusing to iron men’s shirts.
Dr Christopher pointed out that some other tasks traditionally seen as women’s, which had ‘shifted’, included cooking. She said: “Men are more likely to do this now, arguably this might be because they are less likely to be seen as less masculine for doing so, this helped by the rise of celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay, Rick Stein and Jamie Oliver.”
Her research also revealed that men are more likely to wash up and stack the dishwasher but, like ironing, men doing these tasks was often driven by standards such as liking them stacked a particular way.
They are also more likely to hoover than to clean, which fell mostly to women, with Dr Christopher suggesting: “I wonder whether sometimes this is something to do with the fact that hoovering involves technology and machinery, so it conceptualises more as a masculine form of housework.”
Similarly, Dr Christopher said men are more likely to do outside jobs such as DIY, washing the car and mowing the lawn, with the emphasis again on physical strength.
Significantly, tasks which men are more likely to be responsible for, such as DIY, are less likely to “interfere” with paid work, whereas those done by women often involve a reduction in their hours with “very wide implications” such as a gender pay gap, restrictions in career progression, and restricted access to pensions in later life.
As a result, she said the state needs to do more, particularly around parental leave and the lack of affordable childcare provision.
Dr Christopher said: “If you take maternity leave, it’s 12 months maximum in comparison to one or two weeks’ paternity leave, so straight away we are sending a message about who’s the natural carer. Parental leave needs to change to challenge this reinforcing of gender roles.”
She added that childcare provision needs to be seen as integral to the way society and the economy works, so needs funding.
Increasingly, Dr Christopher said couples are relying on their parents for help with childcare, and “interestingly, it tends to be the grandmothers who take on this work”.
Individuals wanting to put a monetary value on household work can complete the Office for National Statistics’ domestic labour calculator, although she said it was a crude measure and only gives a rough idea.
“Using this measure, my household work, on top of a full-time job at Aston University, is worth £18,000 a year,” she said.
- Notes to Editors
About Aston University
Founded in 1895 and a university since 1966, Aston is a long established university led by its three main beneficiary groups – students, business and the professions, and the West Midlands region and wider society. Located in Birmingham at the heart of a vibrant city, the campus houses all the University’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Aleks Subic is the Vice-Chancellor & Chief Executive.
Aston University is ranked 22nd in the UK in the Guardian University Guide, based on measures including entry standards, student satisfaction, research quality and graduate prospects. The Aston Business School MBA programme was ranked in the top 100 in the world in the Economist MBA 2021 ranking.
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