Social Norms and Household Time Allocation

Publication type

Conference Paper


Joint Empirical Social Science Seminar


Publication date

January 18, 2006


Economic theories of the household predict that increases in relative female human capital lead to increases in female labor force participation and, symmetrically, to decreases in the female time devoted to household production. However, both at the longitudinal and cross-sectional level we observe that, despite the decline in the wage gender gap, specialization in home production continues to be high, with women providing most of household produced goods and services. We develop a simple model that recognizes the imperfect commitment associated to the contractual processes over household time allocation. In the light of the model, imperfect commitment is characterized as a constraint on the household division of labor beyond what is considered to be 'socially acceptable'. The model predicts that imperfect commitment problems are stronger (and thus the social constraint more likely to bind) (1) the higher the woman's relative wage and (2) the less credible threats available. We test the model using the 2002-2003 Spanish Time Use Survey, a time diary survey with information on the time devoted to household production activities by both partners. Empirical findings support the proposed model of imperfect commitment in the allocation of household time. Although a woman's home time decreases as her wage goes up, this effect is less pronounced as her wage is higher. Furthermore, the time devoted to those household activities where no credible threats exist (such as those involving care) are less elastic to an increase in the relative female wage.

JEL classification: D13, J0, J1, J2, Z13

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