In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Housework

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Theoretical Statements
  • Trends in the Division of Housework
  • Special Groups
  • Workforce Globalization

Sociology Housework
Judith Treas, Anne Tatlock
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 November 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 November 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0099


Housework contributes to the broad project of social reproduction. Household labor perpetuates the social structures associated with family, gender, inequality and the labor force. Provisioning families and keeping up the household all fall under the general rubric of non-market labor, that is, the unpaid work that includes not only housework, but also caring for family members. Because this takes place outside public view and falls largely to women, the value of housework to families and society has often been overlooked or discounted. Until the middle of the 20th century, household labor received little scholarly attention outside the applied field of home economics. As female employment rates increased, however, men’s and women’s lives converged in the realm of paid work, raising questions about why change came more slowly to private households. Although men do more work around the house than their fathers did a generation ago, women still do the lion’s share, and some chores remain stubbornly stereotyped as “women’s work.” Indeed, the allocation of housework is a telling indicator of gender inequality in individual households and societies. Housework also reflects on class inequality, because high-income women can hire poor women to do the job. Domestic arrangements are the outcome of both micro-level family circumstances and macro-level cultural and structural forces. Gender attitudes, partners’ time constraints, their relative resources in bargaining over the chores, and the presence of children illustrate the micro-level influences on the volume and distribution of housework. Cross-national differences in domestic practices demonstrate that the characteristics of social institutions and social policies shape intimate domestic arrangements. How the housework is managed matters for marital relationships, personal well-being, individual careers and population processes. The demand for household labor has created a transnational labor force of domestic workers with implications for global inequality.

General Overviews

Coltrane 2000 offers an excellent introduction to the motivating theories and empirical findings on housework. Lachance-Grzela and Bouchard 2010 reviews more recent literature as the centerpiece of a feminist forum on promising new approaches. In Treas and Drobnič 2010, European and North American researchers advance a cross-national perspective with essays on historical, institutional, and cultural influences on household labor. Zimmerman, et al. 2006 places the supply of and demand for household workers in a transnational perspective.

  • Coltrane, Scott. 2000. Research on household labor: Modeling and measuring the social embeddedness of routine family work. Journal of Marriage and the Family 62:1208–1233.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2000.01208.x

    This thoughtful codification of issues is a valuable introduction to theoretical, methodological, and empirical directions in research.

  • Lachance-Grzela, Mylene, and Genevieve Bouchard. 2010. Why do women do the lion’s share of housework? A decade of research. Sex Roles 63:767–780.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11199-010-9797-z

    A recent review from a feminist perspective considers individual-level influences on the division of housework as well as country-level factors and cross-level interactions.

  • Treas, Judith, and Sonja Drobnič, eds. 2010. Dividing the domestic: Men, women, and household work in cross-national perspective. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

    International contributors analyze structural influences on housework, including employment patterns, state policies, and societal inequality, as well as cultural models that define marriage, family, and children.

  • Zimmerman, Mary K., Jacquelyn S. Litt, and Christine E. Bose, eds. 2006. Global dimensions of gender and carework. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

    An ambitious look at changes in paid and unpaid domestic work and caring labor around the world. Highlights the transnational labor force addressing caregiving and homemaking dilemmas in wealthy nations.

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