Inequalities in Unpaid Work: A Cross-National Comparison

  • Janeen BaxterEmail author
  • Tsui-o Tai
Part of the International Handbooks of Quality-of-Life book series (IHQL)


This chapter reviews the main theoretical perspectives and key recent empirical research on the gender division of housework. We focus on unpaid housework, but where relevant also consider childcare. The chapter starts with an overview of research on time use in households and examines variation in domestic work time in relation to individual and household characteristics and across countries. We then review the main theoretical arguments advanced to explain the continuing gender division of household labor focusing on recent developments and debates. Finally we examine the consequences of gender divisions in household labor for wellbeing focusing on time pressure, work-family conflict and general happiness using data from the International Social Survey Program. Our empirical findings show that women continue to spend more time on housework than men and have a larger share of routine housework. In addition, housework time increases perceived time pressure and work-family conflict and decreases women’s happiness.


Housework Time pressure Work-family conflict Happiness Subjective wellbeing 


  1. Allen, T. D., Herst, D. E. L., Bruck, C. S., & Sutton, M. (2000). Consequences associated with work-to-family conflict: A review and agenda for future research. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 5(2), 278–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barnett, R. C., & Shen, Y. (1997). Gender, high- and low-schedule-control housework tasks, and psychological distress: A study of dual-earner couples. Journal of Family Issues, 18, 403–428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Batalova, J. A., & Cohen, P. N. (2002). Premarital cohabitation and housework: Couples in cross-national perspective. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 743–755.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baxter, J. (2000). The joys and justice of housework. Sociology, 34(4), 609–631.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baxter, J. (2002). Patterns of change and stability in the gender division of household labour in Australia, 1986–1997. Journal of Sociology, 38(4), 399–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baxter, J., & Hewitt, B. (2013). Negotiating domestic labor: Women’s earnings and housework time in Australia. Feminist Economics, 19(1), 29–53.Google Scholar
  7. Baxter, J., Hewitt, B., & Haynes, M. (2008). Life course transitions and housework: Marriage, parenthood and time on housework. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70, 259–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Baxter, J., Hewitt, B., & Western, M. (2009). Who uses paid domestic labor in Australia? Choice and constraint in hiring household help. Feminist Economics, 15(1), 1–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Becker, G. (1991). A treatise on the family. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Berk, S. F. (1985). The gender factory: The apportionment of work in American Households. New York: Plenum Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bianchi, S. M., Milkie, M. A., Sayer, L. C., & Robinson, J. P. (2000). Is anyone doing the housework? Trends in the gender division of household labor. Social Forces, 79(1), 191–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bittman, M., England, P., Folbre, N., Sayer, L., & Matheson, G. (2003). When does gender trump money? Bargaining and time in household work. American Journal of Sociology, 109, 186–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Boye, K. (2009). Relatively different? How do gender differences in well-being depend on paid and unpaid work in Europe? Social Indicators Research, 93, 509–525.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Braun, M., Lewin-Epstein, N., Stier, H., & Baumgärtner, M. K. (2008). Perceived equity in the gendered division of household labor. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70, 1145–1156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Brines, J. (1994). Economic dependency, gender, and the division of labor at home. American Journal of Sociology, 100, 652–688.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Byron, K. (2005). A meta-analytic review of work-family conflict and its antecedents. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 67, 169–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Chesters, J. (2013). Gender convergence in core housework hours: Assessing the relevance of earlier approaches for explaining current trends. Journal of Sociology, 49, 78–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Coltrane, S. (2000). Research on household labor: Modeling and measuring the social embeddedness of routine family work. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62, 1208–1234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cooke, L. P., & Baxter, J. (2010). “Families” in international context: Comparing institutional effects across western societies. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 516–536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. DeMaris, A., & Longmore, M. A. (1996). Ideology, power, and equity: Testing competing explanations for the perceptions of fairness in household labor. Social Forces, 74(3), 1043–1071.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Esping-Andersen, G. (1990). Three worlds of welfare capitalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Ferree, M. (1976). Working-class jobs: Housework and paid work as sources of satisfaction. Social Problems, 23(4), 431–441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Friedan, B. (1963). The feminine mystique. New York: Dell.Google Scholar
  24. Frone, M. R., Russell, M., & Cooper, M. L. (1992). Antecedents and outcomes of work-family conflict: Testing a model of the work-family interface. Journal of Applied Psychology, 77, 65–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fuwa, M. (2004). Macro-level gender inequality and the division of household labor in 22 countries. American Sociological Review, 69(6), 751–767.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fuwa, M., & Cohen, P. N. (2007). Housework and social policy. Social Science Research, 36, 512–530.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Geist, C. (2005). The welfare state and the home: Regime differences in the domestic division of labour. European Sociological Review, 21(1), 23–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Geist, C., & Cohen, P. N. (2011). Headed toward equality? Housework change in comparative perspective. Journal of Marriage and Family, 73, 832–844.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gerson, K. (1993). No man’s land: Men’s changing commitments to family and work. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  30. Glass, J., & Fujimoto, T. (1994). Housework, paid work, and depression among husband’s and wives. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 35, 179–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Golding, J. M. (1990). Division of household labor, strain, and depressive symptoms among Mexican Americans and Non-Hispanic whites. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 14, 103–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Greenstein, T. N. (1996). Gender ideology and perceptions of fairness of the division of household labor: Effects on marital quality. Social Forces, 74, 1029–1042.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Greenstein, T. N. (2000). Economic dependence, gender, and the division of labor in the home: A replication and extension. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62(2), 322–355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Greenstein, T. N. (2009). National context, family satisfaction, and fairness in the division of household labor. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71, 1039–1051.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gupta, S. (1999). The effects of transitions in marital status on men’s performance of housework. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 700–711.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Gupta, S. (2006). Her money, her time: Women’s earnings and their housework hours. Social Science Research, 35, 975–999.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Gupta, S. (2007). Autonomy, dependence, or display? The relationship between married women’s earnings and housework. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 399–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hays, S. (1996). The cultural contradictions of motherhood. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Higgins, C., Duxbury, L., & Lee, C. (1994). Impact of life-cycle stage and gender on the ability to balance work and family responsibilities. Family Relations, 43(2), 144–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hochschild, A. (1989). The second shift: Working parents and the revolution at home. New York: Avon.Google Scholar
  41. Hook, J. (2006). Care in context: Men’s unpaid work in 20 countries, 1965–2003. American Sociological Review, 71(4), 639–660.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hook, J. (2010). Gender inequality in the welfare state: Sex segregation in housework, 1965–2003. American Journal of Sociology, 115(5), 1480–1523.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. ISSP Research Group. (2002). International social survey programme: Family and changing gender roles III - ISSP 2002. Cologne: GESIS Data Archive.Google Scholar
  44. Jacob, J. A., & Gerson, K. (2004). The time divide: Work, family, and gender inequality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Kan, M. Y., Sullivan, O., & Gershuny, J. (2011). Gender convergence in domestic work: Discerning the effects of interactional and institutional barriers from large-scale data. Sociology, 45(2), 234–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kohler, H.-P., Behrman, J. R., & Skytthe, A. (2005). Partner + children = happiness? The effects of partnerships and fertility on well-being. Population and Development Review, 31(3), 407–445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Larson, R., Richards, M., & Perry-Jenkins, M. (1994). Divergent worlds: The daily emotional experience of mothers and fathers in the domestic and public spheres. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 1034–1046.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lennon, M. C., & Rosenfield, S. (1994). Relative fairness and the division of housework: The importance of options. American Journal of Sociology, 100, 506–531.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Livingston, B. A., & Judge, T. A. (2008). Role responses to work-family conflict: An examination of gender role orientation among working men and women. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93(1), 207–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Mattingly, M. J., & Sayer, L. (2006). Under pressure: Gender differences in the relationship between free time and feeling rushed. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68(1), 205–221.Google Scholar
  51. Mauno, S., & Kinnunen, U. (1999). The effects of job stressors in marital satisfaction in Finnish dual earner couples. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 20, 879–895.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Mencarini, L., & Siron, M. (2012). Happiness, housework and gender inequality in Europe. European Sociological Review, 28(2), 203–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Milkie, M. A., & Peltola, P. (1999). Playing all the roles: Gender and the work-family balancing act. Journal of Marriage and Family, 61(2), 476–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Orloff, A. S. (1993). Gender and the social rights of citizenship: The comparative analysis of gender relations and welfare states. American Sociological Review, 58(3), 303–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Pfau-Effinger, B. (2010). Cultural and institutional contexts. In J. Treas & S. Drobnič (Eds.), Dividing the domestic: Men, women, and household work in cross-national perspective (pp. 125–146). Stanford: Stanford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Roxburgh, S. (2002). Racing through life: The distribution of time pressures by roles and role resources among full-time workers. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 23(2), 121–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Roxburgh, S. (2004). ‘There just aren’t enough hours in the day’: The mental health consequences of time pressure. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 45, 115–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Sanchez, L. (1994). Gender, labor allocations, and the psychology of entitlement within the home. Social Forces, 73(2), 533–553.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Sayer, L. C. (2010). Trends in housework. In J. Treas & S. Drobnič (Eds.), Dividing the domestic: Men, women, and household work in cross-national perspective (pp. 19–35). Stanford: Stanford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. South, S. J., & Spitze, G. (1994). Housework in marital and nonmarital households. American Sociological Review, 59, 327–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Sullivan, O. (2011). An end to gender display through the performance of housework? A review and reassessment of the quantitative literature using insights from the qualitative literature. Journal of Family Theory and Review, 3(1), 1–13.Google Scholar
  62. Thompson, L. (1991). Family work: Women’s sense of fairness. Journal of Family Issues, 12, 181–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Treas, J., & Drobnič, S. (Eds.). (2010). Dividing the domestic: Men, women, and household work in cross-national perspective. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  64. Treas, J., Van Der Lippe, T., & Tai, T. (2011). The happy homemaker? Married women’s well-being in cross-national perspective. Social Forces, 90(1), 111–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Van der Lippe, T. (2007). Dutch workers and time pressure: Household and workplace characteristics. Work, Employment and Society, 21(4), 693–711.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Voydanoff, P. (1988). Work role characteristics, family structure, and work/family conflict. Journal of Marriage and Family, 50(3), 749–761.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Wall, G., & Arnold, S. (2007). How involved is involved fathering? An exploration of the contemporary culture of fatherhood. Gender and Society, 21(4), 508–527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. West, C., & Zimmerman, D. H. (1987). Doing gender. Gender and Society, 1(2), 125–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Social Science ResearchUniversity of QueenslandSt. LuciaAustralia
  2. 2.Department of SociologyNational Taipei UniversityNew Taipei CityTaiwan

Personalised recommendations