Women satisfied with current division of labour

A study on equality in Denmark questions the existence of real gender equality. Based on a survey, the study focuses not only on the division of labour at work, but also on the division of labour in households. It concludes that gender inequality might stem from an actual difference in personal preferences and reveals high levels of satisfaction with the current division of labour. However, another possibility is that the gender differences stem from society structures.

Historical context

In the past, the division of labour was absolute: women ruled the house and men ruled the labour market. However, in the 1960s this picture began to change. Women entered the labour market and the traditional male ‘breadwinner’ model changed to a dual earner model. This evolution was distinctive in Denmark; in 1996, only 1% of mothers were full-time housewives.

Study on gender equality

Gender equality is the subject of an anthropological study in Denmark entitled ‘Equal options – Free choice? (Lige muligheder – Frie valg? (2.3Mb PDF)). The study was published by the Danish National Centre for Social Research (Nationale Forskningscenter for Velfærd, SFI).

Men and women in Denmark work the same hours every week, and Denmark is among the countries where most women have entered the labour market and where men take an active part in housework and childcare. However, women perform more hours of unpaid housework, whereas men partake in more paid labour. This pattern is more normal among families with children; before having children, the division of labour is more even between the sexes. Furthermore, women more often take responsibility for the children. This can be a cause of greater stress and a feeling of daily time pressure.


It is possible that men and women simply have different preferences. Women may prefer to have a caring role while men prefer to act as the provider. In that scenario, gender inequality could stem from individual choices in relation to these preferences.

However, another possibility is that these preferences are a product of surrounding expectations. Society is still marked by gender stereotypes. First, the effect of these stereotypes on the labour market causes women to work more often in areas where part-time work is common and, at the same time, to do more housework. This effect strengthens the gender differences. Secondly, the stereotypes are transferred to the actors in the labour market. Subconsciously, colleagues and employers may not demand the same from a woman with children, for example, as from a man with children, which influences the options for women and men.

Division of labour

The division of labour is inextricably bound together. This causality runs both ways: the division of labour at home affects the division at work, and the other way around. This makes it more difficult to break down traditional structures. The remarkable fact is that most women see this division as their choice and not an equality issue.

Survey findings

The SFI study data are based on a survey conducted in 2006 with 2,113 employed mothers and 2,351 employed fathers who were a couple. Unemployed and self-employed persons were not included in the survey.

Examining the division of labour at home reveals that men do less of the work (see table). In total, women do the housework 62% of the time. Cleaning and laundry are done by women 73% of the time. However, men are almost as likely to deliver the children to school or childcare, assuming this responsibility 44% of the time.

Division of labour at home (%)
  Women Men Total
Cooking 67 33 100
Grocery shopping 63 37 100
Cleaning and laundry 73 27 100
Delivering the children to school/childcare 56 44 100
Picking up the children from school/childcare 62 38 100
Total housework 62 38 100

Source: SFI, 2008

One problem with this division of labour is that the work at home is time restricted. For example, cooking is normally done between 18.00 and 19.00, and grocery shopping just before cooking. As more women do the housework, this time restriction affects them more than men. As a result, feelings of time pressure and stress are greater among women than men.

Satisfaction with division of labour

As shown, women do the greater part of the work at home, and therefore it would be expected that they would be less satisfied with the division of labour. Nevertheless, on a scale from one (very dissatisfied) to six (very satisfied), the average for women is 5.17 and for men 5.23. Thus, the difference between the sexes is minimal in this regard and the results show a high level of satisfaction with the division of labour in the family. In general, both men and women are very satisfied, although women working more than 37 hours a week tend to be less satisfied; this is not the case for men.

Nicole Hansen and Helle Ourø Nielsen, Oxford Research




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