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role, conjugal


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The distinctive roles of the husband and wife that result from the division of labour in the family. In her classic study of Family and Social Network (1957), Elizabeth Bott observes that one spouse was usually responsible for supporting the family financially, and another for the domestic tasks involved in house-keeping and child-care. But there was considerable variation in the degree to which the conjugal roles were separated. While Bott did not regard conjugal roles as class-determined, nevertheless joint conjugal roles tended to be associated with middle-class marriages. In their study of Family and Kinship in East London (1957), and again in their later book The Symmetrical Family (1973), Michael Young and Peter Willmott argued that, even among the working class, there is a shift towards joint conjugal roles, with the ‘companionable’ marriage now accepted as the ideal. However, while more recent empirical studies suggest that the traditional division of labour is becoming less rigid, it is clear that inequalities remain. Time-budget studies reveal that there has been remarkably little change in who does the household chores, although husbands may help out a little more around the home. Nevertheless, even when wives are working full-time, the full sharing of chores around the house is still unusual, and cases of working women married to ‘house-husbands’ are rare enough to be newsworthy. There is also little evidence that conjugal differences in power and control have disappeared. Studies of money-management in the household suggest that payments of house-keeping allowances to wives are common, with many wives still not knowing how much their husbands earn. All of these issues—the domestic division of labour, household time allocation, and patterns of money allocation within households—are given a rigorous empirical treatment, from the point of view of their implications for changing conjugal roles, in Michael Anderson et al. (eds.), The Social and Political Economy of the Household (1994). See also domestic division of labour; family, sociology of; household allocative system; joint conjugal roles; segregated conjugal roles.

Subjects: Sociology.


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