This section is a summary of studies in Haralambos. Please do not plagiarize and use it for your sociological homework; this entry is intended to be a guide in revision.


  • Conjugal role is the collective representation of the male’s and female’s responsibility toward the family as a whole. The responsibility includes providing finical support, childcare, general housework, etc. 
    • Jointed conjugal role represents the situation in which male and female have similar area of contribution toward family. In Young & Willmott’s theory, both genders have paid employment, and have almost similar level of involvement in houseworks and child care.
    • Segregated conjugal role represent the situation in which male and female have distinctively different area of responsibility toward family. In Young & Willmott’s theory, the males tend to be the main breadwinner, and generally become uninvolved in domestic chores and raising children. Toward the outside world, males mainly associate with their male workmates, kin and neighbors. Females, on the other hand, are mainly responsible for domestic works and raising children. Toward the outside world, females mainly associate with their female kin and neighbors.
    • Symmetrical conjugal role

Young and Willmott: Changes in family

  • Stage 1: The pre-industrial family
    • The family is a unit of production. 
    • The whole family members work as a team, typically in agriculture or textiles.
  • Stage 2: The early industrial family
    • The nuclear family, because of the the wide-spread poverty, extends its network to include relatives beyond the nuclear family. This provide an insurance policy against the insecurity and hardship of poverty.
    • This period is primarily lead by female, because mother-daughter tie is stronger than that between husband and wife. Therefore the female form an ‘informal trade union’. 
  • Stage 3: The symmetrical family
    • The stage exists primarily among working classes in 1970s.
    • The better living condition and welfare state stimulate family to be nuclear, and members are more home-centered because of increase in wages (the leisure is primarily home-based).
    • The conjugal bod is strong and relationships between husband and wife are increasingly ‘companionate’, as they both do paid jobs and involve in houseworks and children care (thus this share of work gives the family name as ‘symmetrical’).
    • The decrease in children give women more opportunity to work - eventually makes the family more symmetrical.
    • The geographical mobility required by industrial society severed kinship ties.
  • Stage 4: The asymmetrical family
    • Middle class families tend to be less symmetrical.
    • Husbands derive more satisfaction from their work than working-class husbands. (working classes husbands are more home-centered because they are less work-centeted)
  • Criticism
    • Feminism criticizes that little progress has made to achieve equality between genders - therefore the symmetrical family seems to be unlikely.
    • There is also little evidence of the Stage 4 family becoming typical of all structure. Marred women have continued to take paid employment and few working class families can afford to adopt the lifestyle.
    • Ann Oakley claims that the methodology of Young and Willmott’s research is inadequate, therefore the claim that there exists increasing symmetry within marriage is wrong. Their questionnaire had only one question on housework involvement : ‘Do your husband helps at least once a week with any household jobs like washing up, making beds, ironing, cooking or cleaning?’. She pointed out result of this question (72% of males involve in housework) is inaccurate because ‘A man who helps with the children once a week would be included in this percentage’, underlining the research’s failure to examine the extent of involvement of male in houseworks.

The British Attitude Survey

  • The British Social Attitudes Survey conducted research on household tasks in 1984, 1991 and 1997. The most recent examination of this topic in the British Social Attitude survey featured in the 2008 edition, which includes a discussion by Rosemary Crompton and Clair Lyonette of a variety of research in this area as well as data from the survey itself.
    • They argued that there're two predominant explanations for why women might do more housework than men.
      • From economistic perspectives it is rational for women to do a greater share of the housework, considering the (assumed) fact that male are the higher learner; the income is maximized if male do more paid works.
      • From the alternative theory (Gender construction theory), the division of household labour is not rational because females are shaped by the societies’ expectation on them; so they tend to do more housework even then they do as much paid work as men or have similar or greater level of earnings.
  • Using data from 1989 to 2006 surveys, they concluded that there existed a shift in attitude away from traditional division of labour, with 32% of men and 26% women in 1989 agreeing with the traditional division, comparing to the percentage of 17% of men and 15% of women in 2006
    • However, they finds that lots of people still hold traditional view on division of work in child care. When faced with the question of whether women’s absence will cause problem for a preschool child, 51% of male and 42% of female agreed with the statement in 1989, comparing to the percentage of 41% of male and 29% of female in 2006.
  • They stated that there was a significant shift towards men doing a greater share of housework between the 1960s and 1990s, but after this period men’s contribution has not increased to any greater extent.
  • In their evaluation, they agreed that women who had high wage rates did tend to do a lower proportion of domestic tasks, as predicted by economistic perspectives. However, other factors were equally important, because more egalitarian gender roles in home were found amongst the lower age groups, the better educated, and the higher social classes. Further, women remain normatively associated with domestic work and caring, and this continue to restrict the choices of employment for women. And considering the fact that only 12% of women, among all couples,  earn more than their partner, it is rational in most households for the man to do more work than the women.

Boulton: Research on childcare

  • Boulton argued that other researches that focus on the allocation of tasks in the home exaggerate the extent of men’s involvement in childcare, and states that the question involving in those studies cannot give a true picture of conjugal roles.
  • She stated that childcare is essentially about exercising responsibility for another person who is not fully responsible of herself. She claimed that, although men might help with some houseworks, it is women who take the primary responsibility for children
  • The following study provided by the Millennium Cohort Study (2007) support Boulton’s claim. The research took the detailed quantitative methodology, having 51,000 parents with children age from 9 month to 3 years.
    • When a 3 year old child was ill, 68.9% of mothers did most of the childcare, comparing to the percentage of 1.1% of fathers. In 28.6% of the cases the responsibility was shared.
    • However, the survey did find out that fathers involve more in routine care for their children. 51% of father read daily to their 3 year old children and further 31% do this weekly. 78% play with their children daily, and 21% weekly. But fathers were less likely to put their children to bed, with 24% doing so daily and 64% weekly. However, their involvement was still less than that of the mothers.

Braun, Vincent & Ball

  • Braun, Vincent and Ball's finding was that many men think they should be more involved in childcare (and fathers are indeed doing more than in previous generations). However, according to Braun, their involvement was still limited.
  • In Braun’s in-depth study of 16 working-class fathers from London, 50% of the fathers in the cases are classified as ‘background fathers’ who did not spend much time with the children. Another 50% are ‘active fathers’ who were highly involved in childcare.
    • Among those 8 active fathers, 4 had their partners as the main breadwinners, although those fathers still felt that they should be, ideally, they should be the main breadwinner. There was as strong Provider Ideology which linked being a breadwinner with masculine identities.
    • Most of those fathers thought childcare was more about their relationship with their partner rather than the children themselves. They still view financial provision as an important part of their role. Only 1 father changed his full time job into a part time job to spend more time with his daughter.
    • Many of men express how uncomfortable they felt looking after their children in public places along. Many active fathers were ‘very aware and self-conscious of “moral-panics” linking lone men and children to paedophilia (a psychiatric disorder in which an adult or older adolescent experiences a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children, generally age 11 years or younger.).’ 
  • Larger sample of women been interviewed agreed that females are primarily responsible for childcare. Several women said they were ‘lucky’ to have partners who helped - they did not see it as the norm.
  • In the 70 sample families, only 3 fathers were the main carer.
  • Braun concluded that the ideology linking fathers to breadwinners and mothers to childcare takers is still predominant. 

Change in men’s share of household tasks

  • Gershuny’s study found that, as the rise in the proportion of wives taking paid employment outside the home, there is a gradual shift towards husbands doing a higher proportion of domestic work. 
  • He examined data from 1974 to 1977 and finds that, in 1977 women continued to do in excess of 60% of of the domestic work even when both partners were working full-time.
    • However, he found little differences in the amount of time men and women in employment spent on paid and unpaid work. 
    • Allan suggests the work that women carry out may be tedious and less satisfying than the more creative tasks that are done by man.
  • Survey carried out by ONS in 2001 and 2005 examine the detailed time arrangement of both genders. In 2000 men spent 6h 20 min pre rayon employment, study, housework and childcare, and women spent 6 min more. In 2005, the time is 5h 41 min for men and 5h 58 min for women. There is little difference.
  • Lamar (2006) found that ‘Men and women in partnerships have similar totals of work and leisure time, with men overall having a little more work time than women.

Conjugal roles and power

  • A study by Hardill, Green, Dudlestone and Owen (1997) examined power in dual-earner households in Nottingham. 19 out of 30 of families husband’s career took precedence in making major household decisions (such as where to live), 5 out of 30 do the wives, and in 6 cases nigher career was clearly prioritized. They concluded that it is most likely to be the man who decide where to live, but husband and wife usually made a joint decision about buying or renting a house. The significant minority of households there appeared to be more egalitarian relationships.
  • Jan Pahl examined the control of money in family. Her research was based upon interviews with 102 couples with at least one child under 16. The sample includes families from all classes, and therefore is representative.There exists 4 following situations:
    • Husband-controlled pooling: It was the most common pattern with 39 out of 102 couples doing so. In this system, husbands have the dominant role in deciding how money is spent. This situation is often found in high-income households, especially if the wife did not work or have a lower status of employment. This system gives most power to men.
      • The inequality here is not as great as that of husband controlled system. In the highest income households there is usually sufficient money to meet the personal expenditure of both partners.
    • Wife-controlled pooling: It was the second most common category, with 27 out of 102 doing so. This situation is often found in middle class households, especially when wives earn more or have more education level. This system tend to be the most egalitarian system of financial control.
      • This type of family is the most egalitarian type, with both side have similar amount of power in making decisions and are equally likely to experience financial deprivation.
    • Husband-controlled: 22 out of 102 doing so. In this case the husbands was usually the one with the main or only wage, and often he gave his wife housekeeping money. This system lead to male dominance.
      • In those families men usually spend more on personal consumption than wives.
    • Wife-controlled: 14 out of 102 doing so. This situation is most common in working class. Neither male nor female works and both receive income from benefits. Although this system tend to give women more power than the men, it was more common in poorer households where the responsibility for managing the money is more of a burden than a privilege.
      • In this case wives often have nothing left. Women tend to limit their own spending rather than seeing their husband or children go short.
  • Louie and Gershuny, after analyzing the data from British Household panel Survey from 1991 and 1995, stated that the relationship tend to be more egalitarian. The housekeeping allowance system (husband-controlled) represent only 10% of data from 1995, and the use of shared management system had increased to 51% in 1995. By 1995 the proportion saying the male and female partners had an qual say had risen 5% (from 1991) and reach 70%, and the proportion saying that male dominate decrease accordingly. Gender equality are more likely to appear when women were well qualified and had high earning.
    • However, they stated that ‘we are still far form a position in which the balance between the sexes in the workplace, corresponds to the balance of work, and economic power, in the home.’
  • Further research carried out by Vogler, Brockmann and Wiggins (2007) used data from the International Social Survey Program from 2002. Unlike previous studies, their studied included cohabiting couples.
    • Pooling system were predominant in all groups, with overall 54% of couples using the joint pooling system (all money is pooled) and 73% using the either joint or partial pooling system (some money is pooled). 7% used the housekeeping allowance system (Husband-controlled).
    • The data suggests a move toward greater sharing and greater equality between partners. However, there was considerably less sharing of money management among cohabiting couples, especially among those without children and those who had previously been married.
    • Vogler argued against Giddens’ idea that cohabitation would lead to more egalitarian relationships, saying that childless and post-marital cohabiting unions may be associated with even bigger inequalities in financial decision making, living standards and money for personal spending and saving, than comparable married unions in which couples pool money.

Buncombe and Marsden: Conjugal roles and emotional work

  • Buncombe and Marsden (1995) argued that some forms of domestic work, namely the emotional work cannot be measured in conventional surveys. 
  • They develop the idea of James who discussed how ‘from a very early age girls and the women become subconsciously trained to be more emotionally skilled in recognizing and empathizing with the moods to others.’
  • Their survey was based on interview with 40 couples who had been married for 15 years.
    • They found that many women expressed dissatisfaction with their partner’s emotional input into the relationship and the family, and many of the women felt emotionally lonely. 
    • Men tend to be concentrated at work and are unwilling to discuss their feelings. They did not acknowledge that emotion work needed to be done to make the relationship work —— so therefore its is women who hold the relationship together by doing the crucial emotion work.
      • In early stages the women deep act away any doubts about their emotional closeness or suitability as partners, and suppress any doubts because trusting love and being convinced about the worth of relationship.
      • In later stages women shallow act to maintain the relationship, pretending to their partners and others that the relationship is satisfactory and they are happy with it.
        • But some may begin to ‘leak’ their unhappiness to outsider, and those may result in the break-up of the relationship.
      • Emotion work relates the the idea of triple shift — Women take part in employment, do houseworks and also preform emotion works.

Gilline Dunne: Lesbian division of labour

  • Dunne examined 37 cohabiting lesbian couples.
  • Unlike most heterosexual couples, lesbian partners take share of the responsibility for childcare. The birth mother of the child was not necessarily the main carer, and the partners take turns to reduce their paid employment to spend more time with the children.
  • Those households have a fairly equitable division of time spent on household: in 81% neither partner did more than 60% of the housework. If the division of housework was more skewed towards one partner, it was usually the case that the one who did less housework spent much longer in paid employment.
  • Many women felt that the lack of different gender roles made it easier to share task equitably, saying ‘there are no pre-set indications about how our relationship should work, and we have to work it out for ourselves.’

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