Household Labor

The notion that the household went from a producer to a consumer is misleading. Technology did more to increase the productivity of the home due to mechanization of various key areas: food, clothing, healthcare, transportation, water, gas, electricity, and petroleum. But productivity refers more to the ability for the household to do more for itself, to have more time to devote to child rearing. At the same time, this technological shift also reduced the male’s share of the work in the home; mechanization helped lift their burdens more than women’s. Machines tended to reorganize labor for tasks, such as washing clothes, cooking, and cleaning rather than eliminate the manual input.

An ideological shift precipitated from mechanization at home; tasks designated for women and men became more entrenched in their respective spheres. Mechanization fostered a deeper impression of men’s roles as wage earners and leaving the domestic tasks to women. Single women, however, could enjoy the benefits of bachelor lifestyle, only being responsible for their selves. But within families, the amount of domestic work was double that of men, despite the technological progress. And progress was unfounded, futuristic homes were not much different from traditional households.

Children also had a role to play in the labor distribution in the home. Sons tended to simply increase the amount of work for the females, siblings and/or mother. Daughters tended to decrease the overall amount of work per individual. Labor was usually divided according to gender, with parents reinforcing these roles.

Increasing labor for women outside the home did not reduce the labor within it and neither did technology. Technology reinforced established gender stereotypes and then ingrained them  deeper in social ideology. Men tended to “…require more housework than they contributed.” Women who worked also tended to have more housework, a fact the majority of women were well aware of. African American households were also aware of gender inequalities. But these households were more likely to address the issues and divide the labor and inequalities. Studies showed that black men participated in in household tasks more than white men. Hispanic families had similar views as whites, with division of labor along gender lines. In general, women from all ethnicities reported some conflict with their husbands  regarding housework.

Leonard, Eileen B. “Women, Technology, and the Myth of Progress.” Household Labor and Technology in a Consumer Culture. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson, 2003. 148-173. print.

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