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Class, housework, and happiness: Women's work and life satisfaction


Large-sample surveys often fail to find a difference in self-reported satisfaction between housewives and employed women. Several explanations that have been offered for this failure are explored here in greater detail. The suggestion that the ease of housewives' lives is experienced as a benefit compensating for fewer satisfactions in other areas is rejected; greater time pressure is associated with greater satisfaction for housewives. The suggestion that working-class women are happier at home, while middle-class women prefer careers is also not supported; working-class women appear to be less satisfied with their lives and no more satisfied with their work whether the comparison group is working-class women with jobs or middle-class housewives. Social desirability, on the other hand, is found to be a major factor predicting the self-reported happiness of housewives, and the general issue of the role of social expectations in evaluating satisfaction is raised.

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Thanks are extended to Michael Gordon, Joan Huber, and Jane Wilkie for their most helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper, which was presented to the Eastern Sociological Society, March 1980.

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Ferree, M.M. Class, housework, and happiness: Women's work and life satisfaction. Sex Roles 11, 1057–1074 (1984). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00288134

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  • Life Satisfaction
  • Comparison Group
  • Social Psychology
  • Social Desirability
  • Time Pressure