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Paid vs unpaid

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Training Handout

Why has the conflict between working outside the home and who does the work inside the home increased in intensity?

Today’s society has an economy based on money and the market.

That means much of the requirements for maintaining a household means a need for money (to pay for rent or mortgage, food, power, water, insurance, taxes, recreation and entertainment).

At the same time, prices of labour being high, most of us can not afford to hire some person to come into the house to do the housework (laundry, cooking, cleaning, nurturing children).

That means there are two kinds of work related to maintaining a household, outside paid work, and inside unpaid work.

Both are needed.

This is more applicable to urban living, and less applicable to rural living.

In our recent history, and in our ideals, we have in the past made a simple division, men (fathers, husbands) work outside the home for pay and women (wives, mothers) work inside the home for no pay.

This ideal is still supported by social and religious conservatives, even though it is not universal. Neither, we discover, was it ever universal.

It is a product of the industrial revolution.

The conflict approach in sociology, deriving from the view of Marx that inequality is based on relations to production, is based on the idea that competition for scarce resources lies at the root of conflict.

In a family, that relationship is turned upside down.

The conflict is based on the need for both outside and inside work, and the competition for not doing the needed work in the house.

Many men have been socialised into a situation where men were expected to work for pay outside the house and that women should stay home and do the housework for free. In contrast, many women have been asking why should they stay at home when they have the needed skills, training and experience to work for pay outside the house.

What happens, usually, is that women get to work for pay outside the house, and then are expected to come home and work for free in the house.

This is the basis of conflict within the household.

Three different situations may apply: (1) men working outside the house and women working inside, (2) women working outside and inside the house, and (3) men and women both sharing inside and outside work.

Change does not happen instantaneously, so some families of several generations may have all three patterns working at the same time.

Women working for pay outside the home had a big boost 1914-1919 (World War I) where many men were called to go into the military for the war, and women were hired to do paid work.

This was not permanent, however, and during the twenties and thirties women reverted to the home to a large extent.

The depression of the thirties, with high unemployment, saw many women fired so as to allow men to work.

World War II (1939-46) saw a similar situation as in the previous war, with many women getting paid work outside the home.

It also saw more women entering the military itself.

After the second world war, there was less of a swing back to the earlier situation, and more acceptance of women working outside the home.

The feminist movement was not the cause of this change, so much as a reflection of it.

We relate the change inside families, women increasingly working for pay outside the household, to broad economic and political changes outside the home, social change, but the ensuing conflict between men and women inside the household as a result of changes in family responsibilities.

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Last update: 2012.06.07

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