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When Does Gender Trump Money? Bargaining and Time in Household Work (WP-02-34)

Michael Bittman, Paula England, Liana Sayer, Nancy Folbre, and George Matheson

We test hypotheses about the effect of husbands’ and wives’ contribution to family income on the amount of housework each spouse does. We use time-use diary data from the Australian Time Use Survey of 1992, and compare our results to recent analyses of American data by Brines, Greenstein, and Gupta, as well as our own U.S. analysis. Our models control for education, children, number of hours of market work of each spouse, and total household income. Consistent with predictions from exchange theory that “money talks” in marital bargaining, women in both nations decrease the amount of time they spend on housework as their income increases, up to the point where both sexes contribute equally to the household’s income. In the U.S. (although not in Australia), there is also a small increase in the time men spend on housework as their wives contribute more to the family income. But in other respects, gender still trumps money. In both nations, women do more unpaid labor than men, even when other things are equal, and in Australia, the amount of unpaid work men do is unaffected by their wives’ level of income. Moreover, in both nations, among those couples in the range from equal provision to women providing all the income, the allocation of housework is opposite to that predicted by exchange theory. When couples are deviating from the normative standard that men should make more money than women, they become more traditional in dividing up the housework, as if to compensate. This compensatory conformity takes a different form in the two nations. In the U.S., the response (though small) comes from the men, who react to economic dependence by doing less housework than men whose earnings equal their wives.’ In Australia, it is the women who react. When they are earning most of the money, they do substantially more housework than women whose earnings equal their husbands’. We speculate that these national differences in how relative earnings affect housework flow from the more entrenched institutionalization of male breadwinning and mothers’ part-time employment in Australia.

Michael Bittman, Social Policy Research Center, University of New South Wales, Australia

Paula England, Department of Sociology, Northwestern University

Liana Sayer, Population Studies Center, University of Pennsylvania

Nancy Folbre, Department of Economics, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

George Matheson, Department of Sociology, University of Wollongong, Australia

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