Attitudes have changed, but have behaviours?
We have shown how, during the past three decades, the public has become less traditional in its views about mothers working per se, but that the majority view is that mothers, with young children at least, should still retain the primary care role (be that by staying at home or by combining part-time work with the care-giving role). At this point in the chapter, we turn to look at what people report is happening in their own households. Using questions included in British Social Attitudes since 1994 or 2002, we explore the issue of the domestic division of labour from a number of angles. First we examine how much time men and women report spending on housework and family care. Second, we examine whether particular tasks are more or less likely to be undertaken exclusively by men and women than they have been in the past. Thirdly, we look at whether or not men and women view their own gender division of domestic labour as fair. These findings add to our evidence of whether, with increasing numbers of women (and mothers) in the workplace, this has resulted in increased equity in terms of looking after the home.
In order to see how household work and caring is divided between couples, British Social Attitudes ask those living with a partner:
On average, how many hours a week do you personally spend on household work,
not including childcare and leisure time activities?
On average, how many hours a week do you spend looking after family members
(e.g. children, elderly, ill or disabled family members)?
The average (mean) hours that men and women report spending on these activities in 2002 (household work only) and 2012 are shown in Table 5.5. Other studies have found that men somewhat 'inflate' their participation in household chores, compared with the estimates given by their partners about how much the men do (Scott and Plagnol, 2012). In this table we therefore show the hours spent by men and women,
as reported by the individual themselves and by their partner. There has been little change in the gender division of unpaid work across the past decade. Both men and women agree that women spend much more time each week on average - both on household work and on looking after family members. In 2012, according to self-reports, men spend an average of eight hours on housework per week, while women spend 13 hours. The comparable figures for care of family members are 23 hours a week for women and 10 for men.
When we combine self-reported involvement in household work and looking after family members, we find that men in 2012 report spending an average of 19 hours a week on these activities, compared to the 36 hours reported by women. A similar magnitude of difference is found when we consider the reported time spent by fathers and mothers specifically; while fathers report an average of 24 hours per week spent on household work and looking after family members, the comparable figure for mothers is 49 hours.
Periodically since 1994, British Social Attitudes also asked people in couple households to identify who in their household performs each of the tasks listed in Table 5.6. The table shows the percentages of people who say that each particular task is performed generally by the man or by the woman in the household (although, since 2002, the question was asked in terms of whether each task was done always/usually by themselves, their partner, or both equally, with the option of saying the task is done by someone else).
The overall story is that there has been very little change over the past two decades in the percentage of couple households dividing household responsibilities along traditional gender lines. The biggest gender divides are in who does the laundry (women, in 70 per cent of couple households in 2012) and who makes small repairs around the house (men, in 75 per cent of couple households in 2012). However, there has been some shift in responsibilities for doing the laundry since 1994, when in eight in ten households it was largely the woman's task. While the extent to which other tasks are typically undertaken by men or women is less pronounced, it was the case in 1994 and remains the case in 2012 that, to differing degrees, women are much more likely than men to always or usually care for sick family members, shop for groceries, do the household cleaning and prepare the meals. (However, both caring for sick family members and shopping are as likely to be done equally by both partners, as to be usually done by only the woman.) While women are less likely to be primarily responsible for caring for sick family members than they were decades ago, there is little evidence of a substantial increase in men undertaking this activity or it being shared.
Knowing how couples divide their time does not tell us whether they think this is an appropriate division of labour given their other commitments (for instance, paid work). So, in 2002 and 2012, British Social Attitudes asked:
Which of the following best applies to the sharing of household work between you and your spouse/partner?
The answer options were framed in terms of the extent to which someone felt they were taking on a "fair share".
The views presented in Table 5.7 highlight substantial differences in the perceptions of men and women on this matter - and that these views have not changed much over the past decade. Around six in ten women in 2002 and 2012 consider that they do more than their fair share of the household work. However, only around four in ten men in both years think that they do less than their fair share. Men are unlikely to say they do more than their fair share, as are women to say that they do less than their fair share. Just under half of men and around a third of women think that they do roughly their
So, although significantly fewer men in 2012 than in 2002 report that they are doing less than their fair share, still the key finding is that, when it comes to their own division of labour within the home, most women think that the division of labour is unjust because she is doing more than her fair share. Within couple households, there is little sign of a gender role revolution in terms of who does what around the home.
These findings are broadly replicated when we focus on the views of mothers and fathers specifically. Moreover, when we look at couple households where both members of the couple are doing a comparable amount of paid work (both full-time, both part-time or both not working) we find similar perceptions of fairness in the gender division of domestic labour - although the numbers available are too small for analysis in some instances. In couples where partners are doing the same amount of paid work, 63 per cent of women say that they are doing more than their fair share of housework, while 15 per cent of men say that this is the case for them - almost exactly replicated in the figures presented in Figure 5.7.
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- When this question was originally developed in 1984, it asked about "a husband" and "a wife" rather than "a man" and "a woman". This was replaced by a variant of the question using the latter terminology in 1994.
- In 2002 and later years, answer categories were framed with reference to the respondent - "always me", "usually me", "about equal", "usually spouse/partner" and "always spouse/partner". In 1994 and earlier years, response categories were framed with reference to the gender of the individual performing the specific task - "always the woman", "usually the woman", "equal or both", "usually the man" or "always the man". The data presented in Table 5.6 was re-classified for the later years, to reflect the format in which the question was asked in earlier years.
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