Testing Housework Theories in Different Contexts

January 11, 2021

Grigorievka Gorge, Kyrgyzstan

Written by guest blogger Kamila Kolpashnikova.

Sociological theories on why women do more housework than men are based on data from the Global North. Yet, scholars rarely test the theoretical frameworks in other contexts. Such replication tests would help to avoid the traps of Americentrism and Eurocentrism in the theoretical understanding and to be able to establish whether the theories apply regardless of the political and economic context.

One challenge to replicate the results in contexts outside of the Global North is that we do not have good data. We often have to rely on noisy and unreliable data. One exception and a data gem available to time-use researchers is the Life in Kyrgyzstan longitudinal survey. This data set provides information on a wide range of topics such as consumption, expenditures, savings, migration, labour force participation, gender and marital attitudes, subjective wellbeing, education, health, and time use.

In our recent publication in the Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Man-Yee Kan (Oxford) and I did exactly that–tested the conventional theories using this wonderful longitudinal data on a couples’ sample. Our results showed that women in Kyrgyzstan spent almost 4 hours a day on housework. This number is larger than in other traditional societies such as Japan, let alone in the Global North. The contextual information shows that it should not come as a surprise considering that Kyrgyzstan’s rural population has difficulty accessing water and electricity. Moreover, the country’s prolonged economic crisis has plagued the population with high unemployment levels and low income per capita.

Our results also show a contextual variation in how much existing theories can explain why women do more housework than men. In Kyrgyzstan, the amount of time a husband or a wife spends on housework depends on whether they earn more than their spouse. The actual level of a woman’s salary will not. Meanwhile, in North America, the housework burden depends on women’s own earnings rather than on whether they make more money than their spouses.

Why do housework theories work differently in Kyrgyzstan? First, the difference arises from family sizes. Kyrgyz families are usually larger and include members of extended family. Families push housework to younger relatives (often the brides of younger sons, kelin) regardless of their income level. Second, self-employment rates are considerably high in Kyrgyzstan. In an environment where goods and services are often exchanged without the medium of money, income cannot be a reliable factor in modelling life.

These findings from our replication study help highlight the limitations of existing theories. We hope that in the future, more replication studies will follow suit.

Kamila Kolpashnikova is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions postdoctoral fellow at the University of Oxford. She is interested in time use research, family studies, and ageing. She is a guest editor of the Journal of Population Ageing and manages the ‘Gender and Unpaid Work’ special issue for the Journal of Comparative Family Studies.

Her latest article in the Journal of Comparative Family Studies entitled Gender Gap in Housework: Couples’ Data Analysis in Kyrgyzstan” is available on the UTPJ website.

The UTP Journals blog features guest posts from our authors. The opinions expressed in these posts may not necessarily represent those of UTP Journals and their clients.

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