Gender inequality in the division of housework over the life course: a European comparative perspective

Tine Kil, Universiteit Antwerpen
Karel Neels, Universiteit Antwerpen

Today paid work is more equally divided in European families than a few decades ago. The evolution is only partly offset by a more equal gender distribution of unpaid work. This tension between public and private gender inequality creates role conflicts and may cause women to postpone or renounce family formation. Therefore this study aims to examine how gender inequality in the division of housework varies across different stages of the life course and whether this gender inequality varies between different cultural and institutional contexts. Using data from the European Social Survey (2010) a sample of 24045 couples of opposite sex from 24 different countries was selected. Using multilevel analysis we examined how the distribution of domestic work over the life course is affected by (1) time availability, relative resources and gender ideology and (2) the cultural and institutional context (gender culture, full time child care, availability of parental leave for men and neutrality of the tax system). We also examined (3) the influence of context variables on the extent to which these individual factors play a role. The results show that housework is least equally distributed among couples with children. Furthermore it appears that time availability is of great importance in the division of housework for couples in all life stages. A progressive gender ideology has a small positive influence on gender equality for couples with young children, but this effect depends on the societal context as cross-level interactions suggest that they better succeed in implementing their progressive ideas in a country with a progressive national gender culture and more full time child care. This leads to the conclusion that contextual variables play a role in averting the domination of emerging parenting practices and ideas over gender ideology that seems to occur at the birth of children.

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Presented in Session 5: Demographic consequences of gender inequality and division of labour