Time-Use And Gender Research Paper

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Men and women have to make decisions on how to use their time, as a day has only 24 hours, or rather time is limited. Activities men and women make decisions about can be divided into paid work, domestic work and childcare, personal obligations, and leisure. Time has become an increasingly scarce good; newspapers and other media abound with stories suggesting that time pressure is becoming a real epidemic. The paper discusses how time use is measured and the patterns of time use of men and women and provides explanations of gender differences.

1. The Measurement Of Time-Use

To understand time use of men and women, it can be categorized in several ways. If one is interested in paid work and leisure, a distinction is made between work vs. nonwork activities. With respect to the division of labor between husbands and wives, the most frequently used division is between paid work, domestic work and childcare. It is evident what is meant by paid work, and most authors use more or less the same description. However, household labor can be defined in a variety of ways. Naturally, cooking and cleaning are domestic tasks, but it isn’t clear how to classify activities that are part leisure and part work, such as vegetable gardening, gourmet cooking, or playing with the children. Leisure is a broad category, including indoor activities like reading books and watching television, outdoor activities like sporting, but also social contacts and going out for dinner. Personal obligations often form a kind of residual category, including activities like sleeping and eating at home.

The most accurate and reliable way to measure the time use of people is the time diary method (Andorka 1987, Juster and Stafford 1991, Harvey 1993). In this approach, respondents are asked to keep records of what they were doing at all times for a day or more. In some studies the main activity is noted in fixed interval units (e.g., in quarters of an hour) while in others intervals are left free (i.e., starting and finishing times are indicated). The period of time when the diary is kept also differs. In some cases respondents are only required to keep a diary for a single day, while in others they are asked to do so for a whole week. The time diary method prevents respondents from exaggerating the durations of their favorite activities while neglecting the time devoted to day-to-day concerns and trivialities. Thus, the actual subject being studied is not overstated, which sometimes happens when specialized questionnaires are used. A serious limitation of time diaries is the difficulty in dealing with more than one activity performed simultaneously (Warner 1986). For example, people may cook dinner while supervising children, or sew while watching television. Another method to measure patterns of time use is asking direct questions that require men and women to estimate their usual time spent on a list of activities. In order to help the respondent, in these questionnaires often domestic work is distinguished into some clear categories like cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry, and shopping. Those few studies that compare time-diary to direct-question data find that direct questions typically produce higher time estimations than time-diary questions (Juster and Stafford 1991), especially for activities that occur frequently (Marini and Shelton 1993). Both husband and wife overestimate their time devoted to domestic duties.

2. Time-Use Patterns

There has been a traditional gender division of time consuming activities within western societies: women used to do most of the household work and childcare, whereas men worked for pay the whole day and were responsible for providing family income. This has changed substantially in recent decades. In the western world, women’s paid work has increased vastly. Now a majority of women in many nations are employed for pay, something that would have been hard to imagine just after the Second World War. Despite the overall increase in levels of women’s employment large differences exist between countries in the northern continents. Nordic countries, such as Sweden and Denmark, have had higher levels of female labor force participation than other western countries for a long time. The Anglo-Saxon countries, such as the USA and the UK were runners up, while in Italy, Spain and Greece still less than half of the active female population has a paid job. For Eastern Europe, the picture is different. The communist ideology, established after the Second World War in Eastern Europe with the exception of Russia, forced many women to enter the labor market. In the 1960s already three quarters of the women had a paid job. Despite the overall increase in the level of women’s employment there are considerable differences between countries in the number of hours per week that women work for pay. While part-time work is common in Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands, employed women in Italy, Greece, Spain, and Portugal almost all work full-time. About 80 percent of US employed women work full-time. In Eastern Europe part-time work simply did not exist before the political turnover. After 1989 full-time work is still the rule in the former socialist countries (van der Lippe and Fodor 1998).

The growth in paid work of women is linked to the often noted decline in domestic work on the part of women in western countries (Gershuny and Robinson 1988, Gershuny 1992). Compared to this large change in women’s time use in the west in general, there has been hardly any change in men’s time use. Although there has been a small increase in men’s domestic work, these changes are trivial compared to the increase in women’s employment and the reduction in their household work. The more equal division of domestic work between husbands and wives nowadays is less a result of an increase in men’s domestic work and more because of the reduced time women spend on household duties. When men perform domestic tasks, they disproportionately do what are often considered more ‘pleasant’ tasks (e.g., childcare and cooking rather than cleaning the toilet).

The amount of leisure time differs not so much between the sexes as between those in paid and domestic work. Between the 1960s and the 1990s for both sexes leisure time accounted for between 20 to 30 percent of weekly time (Robinson 1991). Men do rather more outdoor activities such as sport, whereas women spend more time on social contacts. Some authors argue that the workweek in most industrialized countries has been reduced and therefore the amount of free time has increased (Robinson 1991, Gershuny 1993). However, others point to a reduction of leisure and household time as more women are employed and working hours increase for some men (Schor 1998a). According to Schor ‘the quality of European life is threatened as relatively short working hours, relaxed daily life and appreciation for the ‘‘finer things’’ are giving way in a number of countries to longer hours of work, a faster pace of life, and American style consumption’ (Schor 1998b, p. 7). In two-earner families both partners are exposed to the greed associated with the jobs in which they work, and thus both will bring the restrictions imposed by their work situation to the time allocation in the household.

3. Explanations For The Different Use Of Time By Gender

A rich body of literature is available on men and women’s allocation of time (Szalai 1966, Robinson 1977, Gershuny 1993, Shelton and John 1996). Many study men’s and women’s division of paid and domestic work (Coverman 1985, Huber and Spitze 1983, Presser 1994) and some of these studies compare several countries.

3.1 The Individual Level

An important theoretical explanation of time allocation has been provided by economic theory (Becker 1965). Given their constraints or resources human beings strive for goals and make choices in their time use. An obvious resource within economic theory is human capital. Human capital constitutes the knowledge and skills that increase an individual’s productivity. Education is often considered the most important form of human capital. So, for highly educated women and men, it is appealing to devote a great deal of their time to working in the labor market, since the benefits in terms of money and status can be high. This implies less time for domestic work and non-work activities. To understand the division of paid and domestic work between husbands and wives, economic theory is valuable as well. Within the ‘new home economics’ explicit attention is given to the importance of household activities (Becker 1981). In this model of household production, households are viewed as small factories that, within the time and income limitations, make every effort to maximize their output. If the husband can earn more money and is less productive in household labor than his wife, the husband will specialize in paid labor and the wife in household labor (Becker 1981). In Becker’s view, which does not highlight any conflicts of interest between spouses but assumes altruism, each spouse specializes in what will make his or her best contribution to the family.

Sociological exchange theory (Blood and Wolfe 1960, Brines 1994) provides a different account of spousal specialization. Differences in resources, such as education and income, are considered to be a main cause for the different time use by men and women. Assuming that individuals do not like to do domestic work, this theory predicts that the spouse with the greater resources will have more power and will use it to minimize his or her domestic work. Thus the predictions are similar to those of the new home economics theory, that spouses with higher relative earnings will do less household work, but the reasoning is different. Whereas in economic theory, each spouse chooses between market and household work in order to maximize contributions to the family, exchange theory typically treats employment and earnings as exogenous and examines how they affect bargaining power, and sees doing household work as an indication of less power.

Many studies in the US found that men’s contribution to housework reduces the higher their earnings relative to female spouses (Ross 1987, Presser 1994), although men who are economically dependent on their wives compensate by adopting traditional behaviors in the household (Brines 1994). With respect to other resources such as education or occupational prestige, results are less consistent with exchange theory. Results with respect to the link between the participation of women in paid labor and the division of household labor are inconsistent as well. Some studies find that men married to employed women spend more time on housework (Coverman 1985), while others did not find significant effects (Shelton 1990).

Another important theoretical perspective emphasizes gender specific socialization (Moore 1985). It is not such a long time ago that women were socialized to be mothers and housewives and men to be wage-earners and support the family. More recently there is a great deal of variation in the degree of gender traditionality of socialization. Research suggests that

men who adhere to traditional sex roles contribute

less to household tasks than men whose sex roles are nontraditional (Ross 1987, Kamo 1988, van der Lippe and Siegers 1994) and it has also been noted that women with modern role expectations do more paid and less domestic work (Brayfield 1992, Presser 1994). Although gender roles are measured in a variety of ways, most studies indicate that men’s attitudes are more strongly associated with the division of domestic work than are women’s but that ideology is certainly not the only time use determinant.

These theories can also explain the change in time use of men and women in recent decades. Given that the educational level of women all over the western world has increased and is nowadays comparable to the level of men, according to the resource or productivity argument it has become attractive for women to spend more time on paid work. Consequently they have less time available for domestic work and leisure. Furthermore, attitudes in the western world have changed. Nowadays, working women are accepted in society and fathering has become one of the opportunities for men. According to the sex-specific socialization it has become more likely as well that men carry more of the domestic workload than some decades ago, and women make a career. Indeed we do see an increase in time spent in childcare by men, but rather unexpectedly also by women. Given the sociological and economic explanations, one would expect the opposite for women. It might be that the psychological meaning of children has changed. Children in our

 modern society are a highly valued ‘good,’ in which one wishes to invest a great deal of time. Moreover, the growing threat of the environment might play an important factor. The number of cars has increased continuously with the consequential danger of teaching children to play unattended or travel to activities alone. Finally, it might be an artifact of the methodology, due to the fact that only first activities are reported. Full-time housewives in unmechanised households used to do several household and caring tasks simultaneously, but reported only the first activity.

3.2 The Institutional Level

In addition to individual factors, differences in the institutional context are important for time use decisions of men and women. Although time use decisions are made on a microlevel, the institutional context of a country can facilitate or restrict a certain time use decision. With respect to western countries and Eastern Europe, one of the most obvious differences has been the political system. In the state socialist period, women were encouraged to have a full-time job irrespective of their individual circumstances. To enable women to have a full-time job, extensive childcare facilities were available. There are differences among western countries as well, which become clear using Esping-Anderson’s typology (1990) of Welfare State regimes (liberal, conservative, social democratic), or related more gender friendly typologies. In social democratic countries, such as the Scandinavian ones, public childcare facilities are more extensive and women are stimulated more to have a paid job. In conservative countries, for a long time, women were not encouraged to have a paid job, and consequently childcare was not available. Indeed in countries with less well-developed childcare arrangements women with young children are less likely to be employed than women with older children (Gornick et al. 1998).

4. Future Research

Two directions require attention for future research. First, we need to study how paid work, childcare, other domestic work, and leisure compete for people’s time and how gender-related patterns are changing. The issue of time competition has to be studied in its full sense, covering both the demands from the work organization and from the private life. Second, in line with the disappearing boundaries between countries and states, due to the increase in communication and information technology, comparative studies on time use become increasingly important. At this moment information is available on many western industrialized countries, but one can only hope to compare their figures with those of Asian, South American, and African countries.


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