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Divided Time: Gender, Paid Employment and Domestic Labour

Richard Layte
Ashgate: Aldershot
1999
1840143975 (hb)
35.00 (hb)
190

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Layte's book is an ambitious attempt to analyse, from both theoretical and empirical vantage-points, the complex interactions between gender processes, household divisions of labour and paid employment in UK households. As well as providing a layered and absorbing set of interrogations of a large empirical data-set, Layte also offers a detailed and thought-provoking critique of the existing literature and research on domestic divisions of labour. Layte's principal data source is the Economic and Social Research Council funded Social and Economic Life Initiative (SCELI) research, which was conducted in 1986 and 1987 in six urban areas of England and Scotland. The research data included material on work histories as well as on life styles and general attitudes, although there was some variation in questions asked across sites. A considerable amount has already been written about gendered divisions of labour in the household, as Layte acknowledges. However, only rarely has this work been based on survey data. More typically, research-based analyses have utilised qualitative research on a small number of households, where emphasis is placed on understanding the meanings of and power relations underlying, certain patterns of domestic divisions of labour. Indeed, before reading this book I would have been rather sceptical about whether the issues of what engendered divisions of labour in households look like and why, could satisfactorily be investigated using quantitative data, even though the data used includes diaries as well as survey responses. But one of Layte's most important contributions is to show that both quantitative and qualitative analyses have a part to play in understanding what happens in heterosexual households and in different forms of paid and unpaid work.

Initially Layte explores various theoretical approaches to the question of who does what in the household and why. In particular he draws on a theory known as New Home Economics (NHE) that offers what comes to be seen as too rational a model of how heterosexual households operate in respect of domestic tasks. As the author notes at several points, economic and sociological explanations need to be integrated if we are to arrive at satisfactory accounts of the attitudes and behaviour of men and women in relation to different kinds of work. Layte uses his data analyses and different explanatory models to develop some of the implications of this rather simplistic NHE model to show that women and men do not necessarily simply seek to maximise the use of resources in deciding who does what in the household. Sociological and cultural factors also intervene. The SCELI data showed that in the mid-1980s, women still carried out the majority of household work even though their participation in the labour market was widespread. However, what Layte is able to demonstrate is not only the effects of social class and education on expected divisions of labour in domestic work but also the extent to which men's attitudes about domestic work and gender roles predominate over women's attitudes. But interestingly, he also shows how women's work histories (even those aspects predating their current partnership) can have an important impact on men's attitudes and practices, as can male unemployment. What is particularly interesting, especially for feminist researchers and others still caught up in debates about the relative merits of qualitative and quantitative data and methods, is that much of Layte's development of models and explanations is notably influenced by the qualitative research on household divisions of labour by Arlie Hochschild in her 1989 book The Second Shift. Layte derives some of his ideas from Hochschild's concept of the 'family myth', whereby members of a household agree on an account of their practices with regard to domestic labour which does not actually represent what each partner does. Hochschild's research is seen as particularly important by Layte because it takes account of both macro changes to attitudes and practices with respect to domestic labour and micro level practices and attitudes. Layte notes three dimensions of this which have already been highlighted by qualitative research the relative value of different types of work, the difficulties of achieving ideal gender roles in adverse economic circumstances, and situations where both partners share a stronger commitment to paid work than to household tasks. Interestingly it is this last aspect which is explored in Hochschild's more recent book The Time Bind but this came out too late to be discussed in Layte's book, which is based on his doctoral dissertation completed in 1996. Layte's conclusions are that the many changes have occurred in women's paid and unpaid work activities over the last thirty years have led to very complex patterns in the engendering of what happens both inside the home and outside it. He also draws attention to the negotiated nature of household work allocation and management, a point also emphasised by many feminist researchers. These conclusions are not in themselves new but they do have a firm and wide empirical base.

Though it is obviously difficult to find suitable data sets for an analysis such as that conducted by Layte, it is a pity that whilst this book represents an extremely key contribution to the debate about household divisions of labour, it is based on data which is already some fifteen years old and so represents an historical rather than contemporary situation. Layte himself notes in his conclusion that the British Household Panel data and the Family Working Lives Survey may offer riches for future research. The one frustrating feature of the book is that it has no index which is either the result of a printing error or a decision by the publisher not to include one a regrettable omission in either case. In every other respect, this is a very significant book that makes a crucial and well- grounded contribution to the literature on work patterns in heterosexual couple households. It would be a valuable resource not only in courses where gender work patterns are examined but also for research methods courses in showing how different types of data each have an important role to play in accounting for attitudes and actions.

Rosemary Deem
University of Bristol

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