Who does the housework in multicultural Britain?

The first ever nationally representative study of how housework is organised by couples across different ethnic groups in Britain finds that, contrary perhaps to expectation, white British couples are not necessarily the most equal in how they divide up the daily chores or in their attitudes to men’s and women’s roles.

The study, by Professor Heather Laurie from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex and Dr Man-Yee Kan from the University of Oxford, examined the attitudes and behaviours of almost 30,000 co-habiting or married men and women taking part in the UK’s huge household panel study, Understanding Society.

The data provided a detailed picture of how much time couples spend on routine housework and their attitudes to men’s and women’s roles within the household and in employment .The researchers were able to see how education levels, employment status, socio-economic background and ethnicity played a part in determining how British couples divide up chores.

In all groups women spend significantly more hours on housework than men – taking on an average share of 70% of the chores in the home such as cooking and cleaning. Women who have a degree and those in paid employment do a significantly lower share than those without jobs or without higher level qualifications. But there was considerable variation by ethnic background.

Professor Heather Laurie said: “We found both differences and similarities among ethnic groups, but were surprised to see that in multi-cultural Britain today white British couples are not necessarily the most modern and egalitarian in their outlook on housework. Black Caribbean men have the least traditional attitudes to gender roles while Indian men report taking on a fairer share of routine housework than white British men even though Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women spend significantly more time on housework than white British women.

Education was important for both men and women. Indian men with a degree do more housework than those without, as do Bangladeshi men with a degree, Chinese men with a spouse who has a degree, Indian women with a degree and mixed background women whose spouse has a degree.
Men spend – on average – fewer than half the hours that women spend on housework each week, with men spending a mean of 6 hours a week compared to a mean of 14 hours a week for women. Pakistani men however, report spending the fewest housework hours and the lowest share of housework of all groups. Pakistani and Bangladeshi women report spending a high of almost 24 hours a week on housework on average. Once other factors such as education, whether in paid employment, and whether a first or second generation immigrant are taken into account, the difference compared to white British women falls to between 3 and 5 hours a week.

Our research is the first study of its kind to use the rich data available from the panel survey Understanding Society to look at a large scale nationally representative sample of Britain and examine close up how couples divide housework chores across different ethnic groups. The results should be interesting to policy makers, educationalists and sociologists looking to understanding how couples are living in Britain today.”

Read the full paper ‘Gender, ethnicity and household labour in married and cohabiting couples in the UK’ here
and read coverage of the research and an interview with Professor Laurie in The Observer


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