Boys and girls imitate how their mothers and fathers share housework

housework children China

Photo: Jason D. Great. Creative Commons.

A recent study from China has shown that daughters and sons imitate how their parents’ share housework in distinct ways in rural and urban areas, where there are different gender norms.

China’s socialist revolutions have promoted gender egalitarianism in the country’s public sphere, with women’s labour force participation rate surpassing that of many OECD countries. Nevertheless, progress towards gender equality in the domestic sphere has remained stalled. Chinese women spend three times as much time on housework than their male counterparts.

Existing research shows that domestic gender inequalities are passed on from parents to children when children model their parents’ housework behaviours. Daughters typically spend twice as much time on housework than sons.

The research, led by Dr Yang Hu (University of Essex), showed something else – how children’s share of housework is influenced by the wider social context.

When parents adopt an equal share of housework in urban China, where gender norms are less traditional and more domestic help can be bought in, daughters spend less time on housework, while boys spend more time on housework.

In contrast, in rural China, when parents share more equally, daughters do not reduce their housework. To do so would go against traditional gender norms, which carry an expectation that daughters will compensate for their mothers’ lessened share of housework. Meanwhile, given China’s one-child policy, boys who are the only child in their families also increase the amount of housework they do in rural areas when their mothers are doing less.

In both urban and rural areas, in families with more than one child, girls with brothers tend to do more housework than those with sisters or no sibling. This “sibling effect” has little influence on boys’ housework time.

The researcher, Yang Hu, said: “Without changes to underlying gender values, (rural) Chinese mothers’ achievement of gender equality in work could come at the cost of their daughters’ sinking deeper into domesticity when they act as their professional mothers’ “nature substitutes” at home. The research also allows room for optimism – Chinese fathers’ participation in housework seems to encourage the next generation of men to contribute to an equal share of housework in China.”

Published in the Journal of Marriage & Family, July 2015.