Nations, Industries and Households
- The Cournot Centre series
Edited by Robert M. Solow and Jean-Philippe Touffut
Chapter 6: The Changing Sexual Division of Labour
6. The changing sexual division of labour* Shelly Lundberg Man may work from sun to sun, But woman’s work is never done. (Saying) In the United States, considerable media attention has been focused on the possibility that, as employment continued to fall in the autumn of 2009, the proportion of non-farm payroll jobs held by women could exceed 50 per cent. If this reversal of male–female employment patterns occurs, it will be a transitory one. Women’s employment has been less sensitive to the business cycle than men’s, and the current recession has had a particularly devastating impact on male-dominated industries such as manufacturing and construction.1 A female majority in the US workforce is unlikely, therefore, to survive an economic recovery but, all the same, a milestone in the gender division of labour in the market will have been reached. The economic lives of men and women are converging – more slowly in some countries than in others, but inexorably. In almost all societies, from hunter-gatherer communities to postindustrial economies, task assignment is gender specialized. The early care and nourishment of children are always in the women’s sphere, and there has been considerable controversy in the social sciences as to how much of the sexual division of labour is determined by reproductive biology rather than social or cultural processes. A number of economists have constructed models that show how sex differences, including initial maternal investments in children and differential fecundity, can interact with constraints in the market and the household to...
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