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Household Work and Importance of Housewives

According to the Sociological perspective, “work” is defined as anything productive in which a person gives physical and mental efforts, and it aims to produce goods and services that cater to human needs. Hence there is a fine line between work and occupation. Occupation involves a job that is done with the objective of a wage or remuneration (Crossman, 2019).

Now the question is whether household work is ‘considered as work or not’? Most feminists agree that housework is hard and physically demanding, and that the notion of being ‘just a housewife’ has developed because housework is hidden from public view and done out of affection and duty rather than for payment. (Abott, Wallace, Tylor; 2003).

Crucially, feminists have examined the sexual division of labor in the domestic sphere and have defined women’s unpaid activity within the home as work. A research was done by Hannah Gavron (1966), Ann Oakley (1974), Jan Pahl (1980) and others where they have rigorously analyzed what work was done in the domestic sphere, for whom, to whose benefit and at whose cost. (Abott, Wallace, Tylor; 2003).

Figure 1

Source: Good Housekeeping

Housework is usually seen as women’s work and it is assumed that women will do it if they live in the household. The general assumption, this research found, women are generally inclined to do the household work rather than men. Furthermore, Oakley (1974a) argued that not acknowledging the housework as a work, is both a reflection and a cause of women’s generally low social status. She points out that housework is largely underrated, unrecognized, unpaid work that is not regarded as ‘real’ work. However, domestic labour involves long hours of work: in 1971, in Oakley’s sample, women did 77 hours a week on average. The lowest was 48 hours, done by a woman who also had a full-time job, and the highest was 105 hours. (Abott, Wallace, Tylor; 2003)

According to Oakley, “Housewife’s autonomy [personal freedom] is more theoretical than real. Being ‘your own boss’ imposes the obligation to see that the housework gets done. The responsibility for housework is the wife’s alone and the failure to do it may have serious consequences…the wrath of husbands and the ill-health of children.” (Thompson, 2013)

When women are responsible for the performance of domestic labor or are providers of care on an unpaid (and often unrecognized) basis, this has serious consequences for their role in the labor market. What is at stake is not just the loss of potential earnings or social status, or even the amount of labour required but the fact that many women are ‘trapped’ in the domestic sphere. Janet Finch and Dulcie Groves (1980) have argued that ideologies of domesticity and policies of community care are incompatible with equal opportunities for women because domestic and caring roles are in themselves full-time commitments. (Abott, Wallace, Tylor; 2003)

It has also been seen that men “need a wife” in many occupations. In many professional occupations, women substitute their husbands in many surrounding aspects of their work. Goffe and Scase (1985) have noted that for self-employed husbands, wives play a very vital role and hence these husbands are heavily dependent on the administrative work done by their wives. Wives are often forced to abandon their own careers to take over the efforts of the “self-made” man. Also, despite giving long hours of effort to self-employed husbands, the wives also single-handedly cope up with the responsibilities of the children and the household. (Abott, Wallace, Tylor; 2003)

According to radical feminists men benefit from the unpaid labour done by women in the domestic sphere. Therefore, this leads to a vital interest in maintaining the sexual division of labour. The patriarchal ideology claims that the main beneficiaries of the domestic division of labour are therefore men (both individually and as a group). Marxist feminists argue that it is the capitalist system that benefits from the unpaid domestic labour of women. Not only does women’s domestic labour reproduce the relations of production, but it also contributes to the maintenance of tolerable living standards for men and may reduce political pressure for radical change. Women expend considerable effort and energy stretching the household income and maintaining the household’s standard of living, sustained and encouraged by ideologies of ‘domestic science’ and ‘good housekeeping.’ (Abott, Wallace, Tylor; 2003)

Domestic labour is seen by feminists, then, as real work. Feminists also argue that the demands of housework and the economic and personal conditions under which it is performed should mitigate against the formation of a sense of solidarity amongst women. Domestic labour is a solitary activity, and women are bound to housework by ties of love and identification. (Abott, Wallace, Tylor; 2003).

Reference list

  • Crossman, A. (2019, March 3). How does the Economy Influence Society?. ThoughtCo.

  • Goffee, R. and Scase, R. (1985) Women in Charge: The Experiences of Female Entrepreneurs. London: Allen and Unwin.

  • Oakley, A. (1974a) Housewife. London: Allen Lane.

  • Oakley, A. (1974b) The Sociology of Housework. London: Martin Robertson.

  • Thompson, C. H. (2013, July 2). Ann Oakley the Sociology of Housework (1974).

  • Wallace, C., Tyler, M., & Tyler, M. (2003). Work and Organisation. In An introduction to sociology feminist perspectives (pp. 231–271). essay, Taylor & Francis e-Library.

Annesha Chatterjee

A sociology geek, Annesha is passionate about writing. Everyone has heard, that when you dream of reaching the moon, you can at least touch the stars. Such goes with Annesha, who is a post-graduate in Sociology from Jadavpur University, India. She is also an Odissi dancer, which makes herfeet tap wherever there is music. Writing and dancing is her passion since childhood. In Maya Angelou’s words, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style”. This has driven her life this far. In her leisure time, she picks up the books of her favourite sociologists and gets drowned in them. Also, being a lover of creativity, Annesha tries to make cute stationary things with her digital drawing skills.

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