Gendered division of labour

An engraving depicting a mother caring for her children

Women have traditionally been more responsible for child care than their male counterparts.

Who Does Unpaid Labour?

The short answer is women.

Unpaid labour runs along deeply gendered lines. Though men are often involved in unpaid labour, women do far more worldwide; Canada is no exception.

Women are almost universally held responsible for child care and domestic chores.  Advertisements for home appliances in the Ladies’ Home Journal (a prominent women’s magazine) throughout the course of the twentieth century shows how women’s domestic role was constructed by marketing and the media.  Ads rarely depict men and frequently promote better standards of housekeeping, describing women’s “labour of love,” that is, caring for husbands and children.

A prominent Canadian study published in 1975 estimated an astounding 68-hour work week for women employed in the labour force. (Meissner et al., see below) A 2001 study indicates that men spend less time doing unpaid labour than women do and that marriage and child-rearing increase this difference.  In the age group between 25 and 44, mothers of children under 25 do almost twice as much unpaid labour as fathers (Fast, et al., see below).



Bonnie J. Fox.  “Selling the Mechanized Household: 70 Years of Ads in Ladies Home Journal.” Gender and Society, Vol. 4, No. 1., March 1990.  pp. 25-40.

Janet Fast, Judith Frederick, Nancy Zukewich and Sandra Franke. “The Time of Our Lives.” Canadian Social Trends, Winter 2001.  Statistics Canada – Catalogue No. 11-008. [Read a summary of the study’s findings]

Meissner, M., E. Humphreys, S. Meiss, and W. Scheu,”No exit for wives: sexual division of labour and the cumulation of household demands.”Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology Vol.1 No.2(4) PartI, 1975.  As cited in: Hessing, Melody.  “Talking Shop(ping): Office Conversations and Women’s Dual Labour” The Canadian Journal of Sociology / Cahiers canadiens de sociologie, Vol. 16, No. 1  (Winter, 1991), pp. 23-50.


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