Volume 35 - Article 48 | Pages 1411–1440  

Equality at home - A question of career? Housework, norms, and policies in a European comparative perspective

By Susanne Fahlén

This article is part of the Special Collection 20 "Finding Work‒Life Balance: History, Determinants, and Consequences of New Breadwinning Models in the Industrialized World"


Background: Dual-earner families are widespread in contemporary Europe, yet the division of housework is highly gendered, with women still bearing the lion’s share. However, women in dual-career couples and in other types of non-traditional couples, across and within different European countries, appear to handle the division of housework differently.

Objective: The objective of this study is to examine the division of housework among various couple-earner types, by determining i) whether relative resources, time spent on paid work, gender attitudes, and family structure reduce variations in housework between different couple types, and ii) whether the division of housework varies between countries with different work‒family policies and gender norms.

Methods: The study uses data from ten countries, representing different welfare regime types, extracted from the European Social Survey (2010/11), and employs multivariate regressions and aggregated analysis of the association between the division of housework and the contextual indices.

Results: The results show that dual-career couples divide housework more equally than dual-earner couples, relating more to the fact that the former group of women do less housework in general, rather than that men are doing more. The cross-national analysis shows tangible differences between dual-earner and dual-career couples; however, the difference is less marked with respect to the division of housework in countries with more institutional support for work‒family reconciliation and less traditional gender norms.

Contribution: By combining conventional economic and gender-based approaches with an institutional framework, this study contributes to the research field by showing that the division of housework within different couple-earner types is contextually embedded.

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