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Children and Chores: A Mixed‐Methods Study of Children's Household Work in Los Angeles Families

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This ethnographic study investigates children's contributions to household work through the analysis of interview data and scan sampling data collected among 30 middle-class dual-earner families in Los Angeles, California. We discuss convergences and divergences between data collected with two independent methodologies: scan sampling and interviewing. Scan sampling data provide an overview of the frequency of children's participation in household work as well as the types of tasks they engaged in during data collection. Children's interview responses reflect their perceptions of their responsibilities, how they view family expectations regarding their participation in household work, and whether allowance is an effective motivator. Comparative analysis reveals that most children in our study spend surprisingly little time helping around the house and engage in fewer tasks than what they report in interviews. Within the context of children's minimal participation in household work, we find that allowance is not an effective motivator, but that children in families with access to paid domestic help tend to be less helpful than children in families without. We suggest that while most children are aware that their working parents need help, in some families, inconsistent and unclear expectations from parents negatively affect children's participation in household work.
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DOI:10.1111/j.1548-1417.2009.01029.x
Children and Chores: A Mixed-Methods Study of Children’s Household Work
in Los Angeles Families
Wendy Klein, California State University, Long Beach
Anthony P. Graesch, University of California, Los Angeles
Carolina Izquierdo, University of California, Los Angeles
Abstract
This ethnographic study investigates children’s
contributions to household work through the analysis
of interview data and scan sampling data collected
among 30 middle-class dual-earner families in Los
Angeles, California. We discuss convergences and
divergences between data collected with two in-
dependent methodologies: scan sampling and inter-
viewing. Scan sampling data provide an overview of
the frequency of children’s participation in household
work as well as the types of tasks they engaged in
during data collection. Children’s interview responses
reflect their perceptions of their responsibilities, how
they view family expectations regarding their partici-
pation in household work, and whether allowance is
an effective motivator. Comparative analysis reveals
that most children in our study spend surprisingly
little time helping around the house and engage in
fewer tasks than what they report in interviews.
Within the context of children’s minimal participation
in household work, we find that allowance is not an
effective motivator, but that children in families with
access to paid domestic help tend to be less helpful
than children in families without. We suggest that
while most children are aware that their working
parents need help, in some families, inconsistent and
Anthropology of Work Review
Volume XXX, Number 3 &2009 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved. 98
unclear expectations from parents negatively affect
children’s participation in household work.
Keywords: children, household work, ethno-
graphic mixed methods, scan sampling, working
families, United States
Introduction
The substantial increase in dual-earner families
in the United States in recent decades, along with
changes in child-rearing approaches, has complicated
the issue of household work distribution, and no clear
model of children’s contributions has emerged. This
ethnographic study examines children’s participation
in household work among 30 dual-earner middle-
class families in Los Angeles. Our investigation covers
new ground on the topic of children’s involvement in
household work by merging the analysis of quantita-
tive and qualitative datasets, each of which derives
from uniquely ethnographic data-collection methods.
Specifically, we use a comparative analytical frame-
work to present the results of: (1) over 11,000 person-
centered observations of parents’ and children’s ac-
tivities; and (2) 52 interviews with children about
household chores. This approach allows for the ex-
amination of children’s accounts of their lives along
with the tabulation of actual occurrences of children
engaging in household chores.
Children’s household work is a crucial site of
socialization into family roles, responsibilities, and
obligations, yet very little recent ethnographic re-
search focuses on this topic as an area of inquiry in
contemporary American family life. Historical exam-
ination of children’s household work in the United
States document the changes that were brought on
by industrialization and the institutionalization of
schooling (Nasaw 1985; West and Petrick 1992; Zeli-
zer 1994). Zelizer discusses the shift in parental
attitudes in the United States from initially viewing
children as an economic asset in the 19th century,
when they were engaged in the labor force, to their
emotional value as ‘‘priceless’’ in the 20th century. As
laws regulating children’s work participation cur-
tailed their economic contributions, people had fewer
children, and children began to spend an increasing
amount of time on schoolwork and extracurricular
activities. Today, most children are expected to help
with household tasks, yet the level and consistency of
their participation appears to vary greatly across
families (Coltrane 2000).
This study analyzes two subsets of data – scan
sampling and interview data – collected for a larger
ethnographic project on working families carried out
by the Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF)
at the University of California, Los Angeles. Scan
sampling data reveal the frequency of children’s par-
ticipation in household work as well as the types of
tasks they engaged in during CELF visits to families’
homes. Children’s responses to questions in inter-
views provide information about the tasks for which
they view themselves as responsible, their attitudes
toward participation in household work, and whether
they receive an allowance. Our analyses evaluate the
contribution of each data collection method and con-
sider the points at which the findings intersect and
diverge.
Background
Ethnographic research as early as Mead’s (1928)
study of Samoan culture demonstrates that children’s
responsibilities and household task allocation reflect
the social organization of family groups and the
strong relation between kinship and obligation. In-
deed, cross-cultural studies have found that when
children are relied on for performing tasks that con-
tribute to their families’ survival, they tend to show
less antisocial behavior and act more responsibly than
children in cultures who do not take on such work
(Whiting and Whiting 1975; Munroe et al. 1984).
Ethnographic studies of household activities indicate
that tasks such as sibling care, running errands, fish-
ing, weaving, and cultivating crops, are undertaken at
an early age in certain parts of the world and serve to
socialize family roles and obligations (Mead 1928;
Rogoff et al. 1975; Whiting and Whiting 1975; Ochs
1986, 1988; Loucky 1988; Whiting and Edwards 1988).
More recent anthropological inquiries into children’s
household work have further enriched our under-
standing of child socialization and children’s roles in
families (Schieffelin 1990; Solberg 1990; Nieuwenhuys
1994; Weisner et al. 1994; Klein et al. 2008; Ochs and
Izquierdo 2009). Solberg (1990), for example, found
that children in Sweden who had parents employed
outside the home and were held responsible for
certain domestic tasks reported a higher degree of
autonomy than those who were not assigned such
duties. Further, these children gained a sense of com-
petence by managing basic chores and, in turn, this
resulted in children’s sustained contribution to
household work. Similarly, Weisner (2001) stresses
the significance of children contributing to the family
for their own successful development, pointing out
the importance of understanding what children do as
well as their willingness or resistance to participate in
household work.
Much of the research addressing children’s con-
tribution to household work in the United States,
Australia, and the United Kingdom, has been con-
ducted by sociologists and psychologists, many of
whom use questionnaires, interviews, and time dia-
ries as their data collection instruments (Coltrane
2000). According to some of these studies, children in
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single-parent and dual-earner families are often re-
quired to take on domestic chores on a regular basis
(Benin and Edwards 1990; Blair 1992a; Bowes and
Goodnow 1996). Questionnaire data indicate that in
addition to receiving assistance, parents believe that
the assignment of chores helps to socialize their chil-
dren into becoming responsible, independent, and
skilled individuals (White and Brinkerhoff 1987;
Goodnow 1988; Blair 1992a; Grusec et al. 1996). Other
studies report that as children get older, the tasks they
assume become more gender-specific, with girls per-
forming primarily inside chores (e.g., cooking and
cleaning) and boys engaging mostly in yard work
(Benin and Edwards 1990; Antill et al. 1996). These
studies, however, rely primarily on information pro-
vided by parents and do not examine children’s
perspectives or actual participation in domestic activ-
ities. We argue that the results indicate more about
parents’ perceptions than about the nature and qual-
ity of children’s involvement in household work. In
this study we demonstrate the utility of an ethno-
graphic approach to investigating children’s daily
routines, task allocation in families, and children’s
attitudes toward participation in household work.
Sample and Methods
Families that participated in the CELF study
were recruited from the greater Los Angeles area as
part of an interdisciplinary investigation into the ev-
eryday lives of middle-class, dual-earner families
with children.
1
To be eligible to participate in this
study, parents (n560) were required to each work
outside the home for at least 30 hours per week, be
homeowners with a monthly mortgage, and have at
least two children living at home, including one target
child between 8 and 10 years of age (Table 1). Families
were recruited through flyers in schools and recre-
ational facilities as well as with advertisements in
community newspapers, and all families were paid in
exchange for their participation. Members of partici-
pating families self-identified with a wide range of
cultural and ethnic backgrounds, including Euro-
pean, Asian and South Asian, African American, and
Latino.
2
Parent’s occupations were also varied and
included, among others, lawyer, restaurant manager,
architect, teacher, and firefighter.
Ethnographic data were collected in 2002 to 2004
using a range of instruments, including semistruc-
tured interviews, questionnaires, video-recording of
daily activities, sampling of stress hormones, map-
ping and photographing families’ homes and
belongings, and scan sampling of family members’
activities and use of space. Ochs et al. (2006:393) pro-
vide a detailed overview of the organization of data
collection procedures. At the core of the project was
the video recording of the routine activities that oc-
cupied parents and children across a typical week,
including the weekend. This entailed two video-
ethnographers spending approximately 20–25 hours
with each family. During this time, a third ethno-
grapher – working independently of the cameras and
videographers – used a modified scan sampling
method for systematically recording behavior, uses of
space, and uses of objects at timed intervals.
3
This en-
tailed the ethnographer walking through the house
every 10 minutes and using a hand-held computer to
document the location and primary and secondary
activities of each person occupying interior and exte-
rior home spaces (Ochs et al. 2006; Broege et al. 2007;
Graesch 2009). Unlike the corpus of video data, the
resulting scan sampling datasets reflect the activities
and locations of each family member in the home
at regular intervals. This provides a high-resolution
window onto the frequency and range of household
chores enacted by children and parents alike.
Our three-person ethnographic teams captured
families’ routines on two weekday mornings, before
family members left the home for work and school,
and during the afternoons and evenings, when par-
ents and children returned home and up to the point
that children went to bed. CELF researchers also vis-
ited families’ homes on a Saturday morning and
almost all day Sunday. The CELF ‘‘Children’s Inter-
view,’’ however, was conducted on a different day,
after the 4-day videotaping and scan sampling com-
ponent of the study was completed. The interview
was designed by a group of CELF researchers who
focus on children’s well-being in the family. The
questions cover several domains of children’s lives:
family, school, friendships, participation in sports,
extended family relationships, perspectives on their
parents’ work, and details about how their household
operates. The latter category includes questions about
whether the children have chores, how they feel about
their involvement in household work activities, and
whether they received an allowance. We recognize
that embedded in the question of whether the chil-
dren had household chores is the expectation that
Table 1. Number of Children in the Study (by Age
Group and Gender)
Age
Number of children
Male Female Total
5–7 7 6 13
8–10 15 17 32
11–14 8 4 12
15–17 0 3 3
Total 30 30 60
Anthropology of Work Review
Volume XXX, Number 3 &2009 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved. 100
they did or should engage in helping around the
house, and this assumption may have influenced their
responses to some degree. Nevertheless, interviews
allowed us to capture children’s understandings, in
their own words, of their responsibilities around the
house and their degree of participation in household
work.
Observations of Children’s Contributions
to Household Work
Our scan sampling dataset reflects a systemati-
cally documented account of parent’s and children’s
activities over the course of 4 days in CELF project
families’ homes. As such, we gain a unique window
onto children’s contributions to the work required for
maintaining and meeting the daily needs of dual-
earner households. Specifically, our scan sampling
data reflect a wide range of children’s activities that
can be classified as household work, including feed-
ing pets, taking out the trash, making beds, setting the
table, folding laundry, among others. For the purpose
of this analysis, we used children’s interview re-
sponses (discussed below) to define six categories of
household work-related activities by which scan
sampling observations could be grouped: (1) cleaning
bedroom, (2) meal preparation, (3) cleaning house, (4)
sibling care, (5) pet care, and (6) outside chore.
‘‘Cleaning bedroom’’ comprised tasks performed to
keep children’s bedrooms orderly, including making
the bed, folding and storing clothes, organizing desk
and/or dresser surfaces, and keeping the floor free of
clutter. ‘‘Meal preparation’’ included work involved
in cooking, preparing, and plating food for individual
or family consumption as well as setting the table for
a meal. Oftentimes, these tasks were performed in
collaboration with a parent, although some observa-
tions of food preparation entailed children preparing
their own meals. Activities classified as ‘‘cleaning
house’’ included all cleaning tasks (e.g., washing
dishes, washing windows, sweeping, and vacuum-
ing) in interior house spaces other than children’s
bedrooms, and ‘‘outside chore’’ activities included all
chores (e.g., garbage-related tasks, washing the car,
and yard work) performed in exterior home spaces.
‘‘Pet care’’ comprised tasks related to family pets,
such as feeding and watering animals, cleaning cat
boxes, and picking up after their dogs in yard spaces.
‘‘Sibling care’’ included changing diapers, combing
hair, dressing, and supervising younger siblings.
Despite the wide range of children’s household
chores represented in our dataset, we observed chil-
dren attending to these tasks in no more than a
handful of instances. Over the course of 4 days with
30 families, scan sampling methods were used to
document 6,213 observations of children’s activities,
including leisure activities, schoolwork at home, eat-
ing, and household chores, among others. However,
fewer than 3 percent (n5175) of these observations
reflect children engaged in activities classified as
household work. In contrast, over 27 percent of all
observations of mothers’ activities (including non-
chore activities) and nearly 15 percent of all
observations of fathers’ activities entailed some type
of household work.
These parent-child differences in household
work have been observed elsewhere in the United
States. In a 30-year old ethnographic study of children
in six unique cultural contexts, Whiting and Whiting
(1975) found that middle-class children in Orchard
Town (their U.S. sample) participated in housework
in only 2 percent of their observations. The Orchard
Town sample consisted of nine families with a total
of 24 children, all of whom engaged in a range of
household activities similar to that documented with
CELF research. Importantly, Whiting and Whiting
(1975) also calculated children’s contributions to
household work in relation to all activities that tran-
spired during in-home visits.
CELF scan sampling data addressing children’s
work can be analyzed at even finer scales. Table 2 de-
tails the number and proportion of household chores
observed and recorded for children by gender and
age. Note that percentage data reflect the number of
observations of particular household chores divided
by all observations of children for particular gender
and age categories. For example, 5–7-year-old girls
were observed cleaning their bedrooms in only 1.1
percent of all observations recorded for girls of this
age group (see Table 2). When age and gender groups
are collapsed, we see that ‘‘meal preparation’’
(n558), ‘‘clean bedroom’’ (n546), and ‘‘clean house’’
(n544) tasks were the most frequently recorded
household chores. In contrast, activities classified as
‘‘outside chore,’’ ‘‘pet care,’’ and ‘‘sibling care’’ tasks
were rarely observed and documented in fewer than
half of the CELF project families.
When organized by gender categories, scan
sampling data indicate that girls in CELF project
families made greater contributions to household
work than boys (3.4 percent versus 2.3 percent; see
Table 3). Our sample, however, is too small to assign
statistical significance to this difference. Nevertheless,
we observed this pattern for all age groups for which
both genders are represented in the dataset. It is in-
teresting to note that despite the overall difference in
girls’ and boys’ contributions to household work, we
did not observe the strongly gendered ‘‘inside-out-
side’’ distinction in chore responsibilities reported by
other researchers (e.g., Antill et al. 1996).
Children’s age seemingly also affected their par-
ticipation in household work. Data in Table 4 show
that older children – girls and boys – engaged in
Anthropology of Work Review
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household work activities more frequently than
younger children. Specifically, children in the 11–14
and 15–17 age groups were observed performing
bedroom and house cleaning tasks more frequently
than their younger counterparts. In general, this is not
surprising; older children are often expected to make
greater contributions to household work than their
younger siblings (Goodnow 1988; Whiting and
Edwards 1988). That these age-related differences are
not also evident among the 5–7 and the 8–10 year olds
is perhaps surprising, although this may be attribut-
able to our small sample.
Children’s contributions to household work can
also be considered in relation to the sum of activities
that can be classified as household work, rather than
the much wider range of activities that transpire in the
home (e.g., leisure, schoolwork). That is, when we fo-
cus analysis only on the subset of observations where
parents and children were engaged in household
chores, we find that children account for an average
of 13 percent of all household work. The average
contributions of mothers (60 percent) and fathers
(27 percent), in contrast, were notably higher. These
findings resonate with the results of other research –
all of which is based on questionnaire methods and
large samples – but that calculate children’s assistance
with household work only as a proportion of com-
bined parents’ and children’s contributions. For
example, in a national study of 600 families, U.S. par-
ents reported children performing only 12 percent of
all housework (Blair 1992a, 1992b). Similarly, in an
Australian study, Gill (1998) found that children’s
contributions accounted for only 20 percent of total
housework. Our 30-family sample is considerably
smaller than those of the aforementioned studies, but
the notable disparity between parents’ and children’s
engagement with basic household chores is nonethe-
less profound.
Table 2. Number and Proportion of Scan Sampling Observations in Which Children Engaged in Household
Work Activities During CELF Visits to the Family Home on Two Weekdays and a Weekend
Age/gender
Household work activities
Clean
bedroom
Meal
preparation
Clean
house
Sibling
care
Pet
care
Outside
chore
n%
a
n%n%n%n%n%
5–7
Female (n56) 7 1.1 9 1.4 5 .8 1 .2
Male (n57) 1 6 .8 2 .3 – – 1 .1
8–10
Female (n517) 12 .7 17 1.0 6 .3 4 .2 4 .2 4 .2
Male (n515) 11 .7 9 .6 6 .4 1 .1 – – 1 .1
11–14
Female (n54) 3 .9 7 2.0 4 1.2 2 .6 3 .9
Male (n58) 5 .6 8 .9 16 1.8 1 .1 5 .6
15–17
Female (n53) 7 2.5 2 .7 5 1.8
a
Percentages reflect the number of observations of household chore categories divided by all observations of children for particular gender and age categories.
For example, 8–10-year-old boys participated in meal preparation activities in only .6 percent of all observations recorded for boys of this age group.
Table 3. Number and Proportion of Children’s Household Work Activities by Gender
Gender
Household work activities
Clean
bedroom
Meal
preparation
Clean
house
Sibling
care
Pet
care
Outside
chore Total
n%
a
n%n%n%n%n%N%
Female (n530) 29 1.0 35 1.2 20 .7 4 .1 7 .2 7 .2 102 3.4
Male (n530) 17 .5 23 .7 24 .7 2 .1 0 .0 7 .2 73 2.3
a
Percentages reflect number of observations of particular household chores divided by number of all activities recorded for either female or male children. For
example, only 1.0 percent of all activities recorded for female children are observations of girls cleaning their bedroom.
Anthropology of Work Review
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It is important to note, however, that the 13 per-
cent figure masks substantial variability in children’s
contributions to household work across the 30 fami-
lies. In some families, children were never observed
attending to household chores, while in others, chil-
dren were recorded performing as much as 28 percent
of the household work. What accounts for the varia-
tion across families? In a related CELF study that
addressed parent-child interactions centering on
household work, we found that children in 22 of 30
families regularly attempted to negotiate, resist, or
refuse to carry out tasks, while in 8 of the 30 families,
children often complied with their parents’ requests
(Klein et al. 2008). Our data suggest that children’s
behavior is tied to a history of socialization practices
within their particular families, which includes the
ways parents interact with their children and try to
recruit them into taking on tasks (Ochs 1986, 1988).
Some families in the study appeared to frequently
engage in extended debates, negotiations, and dis-
putes about children accomplishing both self-care
tasks (e.g., grooming) as well as general household
work. Other families, however, had minimal ex-
changes devoid of conflict that revealed children’s
awareness of their responsibilities and their willing-
ness to help with household tasks.
4
With respect to the scan sampling data, we did
not find a statistically significant correlation between
parent’s and children’s contributions to household
work. That is, among families where parents per-
formed numerous household chores, we did not
consistently observe their children performing more
chores than children in families where parents did
few household tasks. Nevertheless, scan sampling
data allow us to quantify children’s participation in
household work and provide a window onto the tasks
children perform according to age and gender. We
turn now to our interviews with children, which we
argue supplement this dataset by revealing children’s
understandings of their responsibilities in the home.
Children’s Perspectives on Household Work
Anthropologists have only recently drawn at-
tention to the importance of including children’s
voices in anthropological research, especially when
collecting data on children’s lives and activities (Ste-
phens 1995; Helleiner 1999; Bluebond-Langer and
Korbin 2007). Scholars in psychology and sociology
have also lamented the lack of studies that document
children’s perspectives on their everyday life experi-
ences (Oakley 1994; Brannen and O’Brien 1996;
Corsaro 1997). While Galinsky’s (2000) study was an
important step toward including children’s views on
family life, the topic of helping with housework was
not broached in her study. As Corsaro notes in his
discussion of studies on children’s household work:
Although psychologists often consider the effects
of such labor on children’s cognitive, emotional,
and social development (Goodnow 1988), sociol-
ogists focus primarily on adult members of the
family and on implications for the reproduction
of current gender inequalities. In neither case do
we learn much about children’s perspectives on
household chores or how domestic labor relates
to other features of children’s daily lives. [Corsaro
1997:37]
Corsaro’s observations highlight the need for
more detailed investigations of children’s under-
standings of household responsibilities and the social
organization of the family.
CELF interviews were conducted with 52 of the
children in 28 of the 30 participating families.
5
Chil-
dren’s responses to the question of whether they
performed chores turned out to be more complex than
anticipated. Children in 17 families reported that they
were expected to do chores; however, children’s un-
derstandings of the notion of ‘‘chore’’ seemed to
differ. Children in five families answered ‘‘no’’ to the
question of whether they were expected to do chores,
Table 4. Number and Proportion of Children’s Household Work Activities by Age
Age
Household work activities
Clean
bedroom
Meal
preparation
Clean
house
Sibling
care
Pet
care
Outside
chore Total
n%
a
n%n%n%n%n%N%
5–7 (n513) 8 .6 15 1.1 7 .5 1 .1 1 .1 32 2.3
8–10 (n532) 23 .7 26 .8 12 .4 5 .2 4 .1 5 .2 75 2.3
11–14 (n512) 8 .7 15 1.2 20 1.6 1 .1 2 .2 8 .7 54 4.4
15–17 (n53) 7 2.5 2 .7 5 1.8 14 4.9
a
Percentages reflect number of observations of particular household chores divided by number of all activities recorded for children of particular age groups. For
example, only .6 percent of all activities recorded for children in the 5–7 year age group are observations of children cleaning their bedroom.
Anthropology of Work Review
Volume XXX, Number 3 &2009 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved. 103
yet enumerated a number of tasks they routinely per-
formed around the house, such as cleaning their
rooms or doing laundry. One child, for example,
replied ‘‘No, not really’’ to the question, but then
reported that he regularly makes his bed, helps with
the laundry, vacuums, and helps his father wash the
car. We attribute these initial negative replies to some
children conceptualizing the word ‘‘chore’’ in a par-
ticular way that differed from their understanding
of helping around the house. It is possible that the
routine tasks they were expected to perform were not
referred to as ‘‘chores’’ by family members or that
their participation was spontaneous and periodic
rather than habitual practice.
There was a wide spectrum of responses to the
question of whether children had chores or what this
work entails. A few children readily admitted that they
do not contribute at all, such as Linda’s (8 years old)
quick response, ‘‘Nothing. I don’t do anything around
the house.’’ Mark (9 years old), from another family,
seemed surprised by the question: ‘‘I, never. Why do
you think that? I never have to do chores. My mom –
they clean the house, I relax ((laughter)).’’ These
responses are interesting in that they do not reveal any
expectations on the part of their parents that children
should or will help. These types of responses, however,
were unusual. Even when children did not list any
specific household tasks, most indicated that they
engage in activities that contribute in some way to
household well-being. Aurora (8 years old) explained
that in her family, she doesn’t have any specific chores
but that, ‘‘It’s our job to try to not make a mess, and if
we do make a mess, we say sorry and mom forgives us
and then we might help her clean up the mess.’’ Her
response displays her awareness that she and her
younger brother are responsible for helping to keep the
house in order. Some children stated that their primary
responsibility was to attend school and complete their
homework assignments. As Becky (6 years old)
declared, ‘‘Well, the job is to go to school .. . that’s my
job,’’ which was similar to responses by children in
other families who cited ‘‘homework’’ as a chore. While
schoolwork may not be considered a type of household
chore, it was viewed as an important responsibility
among some of the families in our study. For several of
the parents in our study, monitoring children’s home-
work was a routine task (Wingard and Forsberg 2009,
in press). Those children who could manage school as-
signments by themselves saved their parents the daily
trials of overseeing this activity.
While most children cited making their beds
and keeping their rooms clean as chores, a few chil-
dren revealed that they were expected to participate
quite extensively in household-work activities.
Michelle (10 years old) replied: ‘‘We have a lot of
different chores. It’s whatever our mom wants us to
do.’’ Stephen (11 years old), the oldest child in this
family, commented that ‘‘We all clean our rooms, we
dust, we have Swiffers we dust with, and you know,
when we’re done with that we vacuum and we’ll
clean everything, the whole house on weekends cause
it gets dusty and dirty.’’ Not only does Stephen rec-
ognize that he and his siblings are responsible for all
aspects of household cleaning, he even refers to
cleaning tools such as the Swiffer, the vacuum, and in
a later segment he discusses the disinfectant he uses in
the bathroom. Leslie (10 years old), a child in another
family in which children often participated in house-
hold work, indicated a gendered division of labor in
regard to the tasks that she and her brother (8 years
old) do around the house. While Leslie feeds her baby
sister and helps with the laundry, she comments, ‘‘I
don’t have to scoop poop or ((laughs)) take out, or do
the trash . . . raking the leaves doing the lawn, mostly
outside kind of things,’’ describing her brother’s
activities.
According to children’s reports in interviews,
their tasks ranged from cleaning their bedrooms to
helping with other tasks, such as setting the table,
taking out the trash, sweeping, and running errands
outside the home (Table 5). In line with previous
research (Whiting and Whiting 1975; White and
Brinkerhoff 1987), we found that the number and
types of tasks children reported increased with age.
Responses from children between the ages of 5 and 7
years indicate that their participation in household
work is mostly concerned with keeping their personal
possessions and rooms in order. The responses from
the 8 to 10 age group yields the most robust data; the
number of participants that fell within this group was
greater than the other age groups because this was the
age range of the target child in the CELF study. In this
group, girls collectively reported performing 28 vari-
ous household tasks (ranging from cleaning to food
preparation), about three times the number that boys
reported. The types of tasks also differed. Girls indi-
cated that they were much more likely to engage in
cleaning tasks and that they took care of the family
pets, whereas boys were more likely to do outside
tasks such as yard work. In general, the number and
range of tasks reported by both genders increased
with age. In the 11–14 age group, however, girls
reported fewer tasks than their younger counterparts.
This is difficult to explain because scan sampling data
indicate that this group (girls 11–14) actually per-
formed more tasks than their younger siblings. The
low number of tasks reported may be due to the fact
that we only had interview responses from two of the
four female participants in this age group.
Children in 18 of the 28 families reported receiv-
ing an allowance on a regular basis. In seven of these
families, children indicated that their allowance was
Anthropology of Work Review
Volume XXX, Number 3 &2009 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved. 104
contingent upon doing chores. However, with respect
to total contribution to household work (as measured
with scan sampling), we found no difference between
children who received an allowance and those that
did not.
6
That is, children who received an allowance
were, on average, doing as much by way of house-
hold chores as children who were not allotted a
monetary incentive.
Tying allowance to household chores is a topic of
some controversy among parents (Furnham 2001)
and parenting experts (Zelizer 2002). While some
parenting experts advise against the commercializa-
tion of the home, others advocate for an allowance to
teach children the value of money and recommend
that this payment be kept separate from their duties in
the home, which should be performed without pay
(Zelizer 2002). The lack of a strong correlation be-
tween allowance and household work in our study is
explained, in part, by the children, some of whom
discussed their views on allowance as being contin-
gent on household work. Stephanie (15 years old)
indicated that she received an allowance in the
past, but she admitted, ‘‘I don’t really do everything
I’m supposed to. Because I don’t have time or just
want to be lazy and not do it. So the allowance
thing really didn’t work and my mom doesn’t keep
up with it.’’ Reese (10 years old) reported that he
receives six dollars every Saturday ‘‘if I do my
chores, which I haven’t been doing so I haven’t been
getting allowance, which sucks.’’ Although Reese is
clearly unhappy about not receiving allowance, he
does not indicate that he is planning to resume his
chores. Money is not necessarily an incentive in these
families.
Some children indicated that their motivation to
help parents with household work was tied to issues
of obligation, enjoyment, and reciprocity. Caroline (8
years old) views household work as ‘‘really fun . . .
because you get to do stuff for your mom . . . and I get
a break off from my homework.’’ In contrast, Dana (6
years old), does not enjoy taking on household tasks:
‘‘Well, I don’t really like doing it because I’m usually
into something but I have to do it.’’ Her utterance,
‘‘but I have to do it,’’ reveals a sense of obligation and
responsibility. Among some of the older children in
our study, the notion of obligation surfaces with even
more clarity. For example, Celia (16 years old), regu-
larly takes care of her 2-year old sister (which includes
changing diapers, feeding her, and dropping her off at
daycare in the morning), helps out in the kitchen, and
periodically runs errands. When asked how she feels
about these tasks, she replies, ‘‘Sometimes it’s an in-
convenience in the morning because, of course, I’d
rather sleep but you know it helps me keep going in
the morning and stuff like that . . . It’s not a big deal
really for me to help out my family because they do,
I think, ten million more things for me than I do for
them.’’ Celia indicates that being a member of her
family requires reciprocity in the caring for and help-
ing of others, and her comments reveal her sense of
indebtedness and gratitude, which was not expressed
among the younger participants in the study.
Discussion: Convergences and Discrepancies
between Datasets
Using multiple methodologies to study a single
phenomenon is not a common approach in the field of
sociocultural anthropology. In this study, the analyses
Table 5. Number and Proportion of Tasks Reported in Children’s Interviews
Age/gender
Household work activities
Clean
bedroom
Meal
preparation
Clean
house
Sibling
care
Pet
care
Outside
chore
All
tasks
n%
a
n%n%n%n%n%n
5–7
Female 8 80.0 2 20.0 10
Male 4 66.7 1 16.7 1 16.7 6
8–10
Female 12 30.0 2 5.0 19 47.5 1 2.5 6 15.0 40
Male 11 55.0 1 5.0 5 25.0 3 15.0 20
11–14
Female 1 50.0 1 50.0 2
Male 6 27.3 1 4.5 12 54.5 2 9.1 1 4.5 22
15–17
Female 3 18.8 2 12.5 4 25.0 3 18.8 3 18.8 1 6.3 16
a
Proportion of number of tasks reported by each age and gender group.
Anthropology of Work Review
Volume XXX, Number 3 &2009 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved. 105
of scan sampling and interview data offer a multifac-
eted view of children’s participation in household
work. While each method on its own has its weak-
nesses, the other offers a complementary analysis
(Weisner 2005). Interviews capture participant per-
spectives, yet their responses may be influenced by
the specific questions asked as well as by issues of
self-presentation. Scan sampling eliminates these po-
tential problems and offers an objective snapshot of
participants’ activities; however, participants’ per-
ceptions and feelings are left unaddressed.
When we compared our interview data with
scan sampling observations, we found several data
convergences and divergences with respect to
children’s contributions to household work. Both
datasets, for example, reflect that older children
contribute more to housework than their younger
siblings. Similarly, scan sampling and interview data
both suggest that the number and range of tasks per-
formed by children increase with age. The datasets
diverge, however, in regard to the issue of gender
differences in the types of tasks carried out. While
some of the children interviewed indicated that the
chores they performed differed from those of their
siblings according to stereotypically gendered roles
(girls clean and prepare food while boys perform
yard work), this distinction was not substantiated by
the scan sampling data. Gendered ideologies of
household work may persist in some families but may
not always be reflected in the actual tasks children
perform.
Comparative analysis also revealed that younger
children were apt to report higher numbers of tasks
per child (compared with the next two older age
groups) while contributing proportionally the least to
household work.
7
For the three youngest age groups,
we found that while these children report many re-
sponsibilities, they seldom contribute to household
work. In contrast, the oldest children (15–17 years)
report the highest contributions to household work
and, in fact, were observed engaged in household
work more frequently than younger children. These
data suggest that older children (or teenagers) were
most aware of their expected and actual contributions
to household work. It is important to note that these
data do not measure the accuracy of children’s reports
in absolute terms, but instead provide insights into
differences in how children belonging to different
age groups discuss their contributions to household
work relative to their actual contributions as mea-
sured (as a proportion of total household activities)
with scan sampling methods. Further analysis is
needed in order to determine the extent to which
individual children either over- or under-reported
household chores in our sample, although we
expect the coupling of data that derive from these
methods – interviews and scan sampling – to be in-
strumental to this exploration.
As discussed above, our mixed-methods ap-
proach also revealed that children who received an
allowance were, on average, participating in house-
hold work as much as children who did not receive a
monetary incentive. Although some children’s inter-
view responses reflect a sense of obligation and
responsibility to their families, our data suggest that
allowances do not play a strong role the development
of these attitudes. In fact, while beyond the scope of
this article, we suggest that the presence of paid do-
mestic work in middle-class households may have
a greater affect on how children are socialized into
household work than allowance. Twenty-four of
the 30 families in our study employed outside help for
the purpose of housekeeping and/or childcare. The
type and frequency of this help varied from family to
family; some housekeepers and/or nannies visited
daily, while others came only two to four times each
month. Interestingly, regardless of the frequency of
these visits, the presence of paid domestic help seem-
ingly influenced children’s contributions to household
work. That is, when we calculate children’s contribu-
tions in terms of their total observed activities,
children in families with paid help (n524) tend to do
fewer chores than children in families without paid
help (n56).
8
Clearly, our sample is small, but the re-
lationship between socialization practices concerning
children’s participation in domestic tasks and the con-
stellation of circumstances surrounding paid domestic
help is intriguing and merits further investigation.
Conclusion
This study of children’s involvement in house-
hold work uses mixed methods to calculate the actual
tasks they routinely take on in the home, and to ex-
amine children’s perceptions of their contributions.
Our findings show that children’s participation, in
general, is minimal, accounting for only 13 percent of
all housework performed by members of 30 house-
holds, and accounting for fewer than 3 percent of all
children’s activities at home. However, there is nota-
ble interfamily variability in levels of participation,
indicating no clear model of children’s household
responsibilities in working families. Children’s
responses to questions about their assigned tasks
reveal younger children’s over-reporting their contri-
butions and point to differing parental expectations
across families. Our findings confirm those of previ-
ous studies that indicate that older children as well as
female children in the household tend to take on more
tasks (Blair 1992b).
The datasets examined in this inquiry offer differ-
ent methodological and analytical routes through
which to investigate children’s contributions to house-
Anthropology of Work Review
Volume XXX, Number 3 &2009 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved. 106
hold work. Further studies that focus on the role of
parent’s routines and expectations in the socialization
of children into domestic tasks will yield a deeper un-
derstanding of how parents and children articulate,
negotiate, and carryout household responsibilities.
Notes
1CELFresearchwasgenerouslyfundedbytheAlfredP.Sloan
Foundation. The CELF study included 32 families, 30 of
which featured parents of the opposite sex and two of which
were cofathered. This study is concerned with data gathered
among the 30 families that featured a mother and a father.
2 In 33 percent of the participating families, at least one
member reported an ethnic background as something
other than European (Campos et al. 2009). Owing to the
high degree of ethnic variability among the families, eth-
nicity could not be considered a significant factor in
determining degrees of children’s participation in house-
hold work (with one exception being the two Asian
Indian immigrant families mentioned later in the paper).
3 Elsewhere, behavioral and social scientists have classified
this method as instantaneous sampling and instantaneous
scan sampling (Altmann 1974; Hawkes et al. 1987). Ochs
et al. (2006) use the term ethnoarchaeological tracking as a
synonym for scan sampling, and they provide a summary
of pertinent literature and discuss important differences
in how the method has been applied.
4 In the two Asian Indian families in the CELF study, there
was little conversation about household tasks; parental ex-
pectations centered on children’s homework assignments.
5 Because the Children’s Interview Instrument was not
complete when we collected data with the first two fam-
ilies in our study, the five children in these two families
were not interviewed. In two additional families – each of
which contained three children – we interviewed two of
the three children; one between 8 and 10 years old and
one sibling. In another family, the 5-year old was not
available to be interviewed.
6 Cohen’s d5.25.
7 Other studies of family members, estimations of their
household work also discuss the issue of over-reporting.
For example, Weisner et al. (1982) noted that children over-
reported the time they spent in child-caretaking roles.
Lee (2005) found that both husbands and wives over-re-
ported the amount of household work they performed.
8 Independent samples t-test (t52.095;p5.045); Cohen’s
d5.7.
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BOOK REVIEWS
Globalization in Rural Mexico: Three Decades of
Change. Frances Rothstein. Austin: University of
Texas Press, 2007.
Avram Bornstein, John Jay College
Globalization in Rural Mexico is a well-written
study of uneven changes in the working lives of
Mexicans in San Cosme, Tlaxcala. The book is based
on Rothstein’s fieldwork in and around that town
over 30 years, during which tremendous transforma-
tions occurred. At the macroeconomic level, state
policies of ‘‘import substitution industrialization’’ be-
tween the 1940s and 1970s shifted to policies favoring
international corporate trade in the 1980s and 1990s.
When Rothstein began fieldwork in the 1970s, the
state ‘‘supported industrial growth over agriculture
and favored large-scale commercial agriculture over
small-scale subsistence cultivation. Consequently,
small-scale cultivators, or peasants like those in San
Cosme, received little support from the government,
and state policies often hurt them’’ (24). Showing a
solid grounding in ‘‘peasant studies,’’ Rothstein de-
scribes how generations of campesinos were pulled
into wage work to supplement their subsistence pro-
duction, and how this proletarianization transformed
gender and kinship relations.
With this experiential background from the
1970s, Rothstein then witnessed the massive impact
brought on by the panic of Mexico’s threatened debt
default in 1982. Subsequently, the United States, the
International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank
demanded the implementation of structural adjust-
ment policies that included cuts in public spending,
privatization of public assets, liberalization of trade,
and a focus on export-oriented industrial production
(30). Work became more ‘‘flexible,’’ a euphemism for
temporary and insecure. Rothstein describes how
men lost their jobs with the closure of national indus-
tries, while there was an increase in women’s
employment in regional factories (36–37). This period
also was marked by the increasing arrival and con-
sumption of new commodities, from prepared foods
and electronics to styles of home construction and life-
cycle celebration.
The richest ethnographic data in the book de-
scribes the garment industry. Rothstein documents the
proliferation of talleres, or home clothing workshops,
often started by former factory workers (63), which
helped make the garment industry Mexico’s most
Anthropology of Work Review
Volume XXX, Number 3 &2009 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved. 109
... For example, middle-class European American mothers tended to run errands or engage in household work when their toddlers napped or were entertained and regarded infants' efforts to help as interfering with adult work (Coppens, 2015). As they get older, children seem to be reluctant to help and only help when there is some contingent reward or potential threats of losing privileges Goodnow & Delaney, 1989;Klein et al., 2009). ...
... Cultural influences of prosocial behavior, including socialization goals, during childhood are reflected in the timing of particular prosocial behaviors (Hammond et al., 2015). For example, helping with household work happens earlier in some cultural communities -such as in the Efe community in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indigenous communities of the Americaswhereas expectations of children's prosocial behavior seemed lower in some middle-class communities where children are often reluctant to help and only participated in simple chores contingent on rewards Coppens et al., 2014;Bowes & Goodnow, 1996;Goodnow & Delaney, 1989;Klein et al., 2009;Ochs & Izquierdo, 2009). ...
... In many Indigenous communities, work is viewed as the medium that not only makes development possible but also dignifies humans (Cardoso Jiménez, 2015), a developmental goal common in many Indigenous Mesoamerican communities (Fernández, 2015). This contrasts significantly with middle-class children's lack of in-10 DOI: 10.1159/000518457 volvement in productive activity and minimal contributions to household work (Goodnow & Delaney, 1989;Klein et al., 2009;Ochs & Izquierdo, 2009). ...
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Children’s household contributions have been studied across cultural communities, mostly on the basis of maternal reports. Less is known about children’s views of their contributions. This study examines Yucatec Maya children’s ethnotheories of learning to help at home and their motivation for helping. We interviewed 38 7- to 11-year-old children in two communities in the Yucatán Peninsula, México. Children in both communities contributed substantially to their families by regularly taking the initiative to help with family work. Children explained that they like to help and that helping is a shared responsibility among family members. Children’s sense of belonging and responsibility to the family seemed to be the driving forces in their contributions, as they pay attention to the needs of the family and take the initiative to learn and help. These findings demonstrate the relevance of studying children’s ethnotheories to understand cultural variations on learning to help at home. Keywords: Maya children, learning to help, ethnotheories, initiative, responsibility, Learning by Observing and Pitching In.
... Both adults and children engage in a wide variety of daily tasks related to household labour, including activities such as food preparation and cleaning. Such tasks, commonly referred to as 'chores', allow individuals to meet basic dietary and hygiene needs (Klein et al., 2009). It also appears that completing household chores has benefits beyond managing simple day-to-day living. ...
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Introduction: The benefits of completing household chores appear to transfer beyond managing day-to-day living. It is possible that chore engagement may improve executive functions, as engagement in chores require individuals to plan, self-regulate, switch between tasks, and remember instructions. To date, little research has been conducted on household chores and executive functions in children, for whom these skills are still developing. Methods: Parents and guardians (N = 207) of children aged 5-13 years (M = 9.38, SD = 2.15) were asked to complete parent-report questionnaires on their child's engagement in household chores and their child's executive functioning. Results: Results of the regression model indicated that engagement in self-care chores (e.g., making self a meal) and family-care chores (e.g., making someone else a meal) significantly predicted working memory and inhibition, after controlling for the influence of age, gender, and presence or absence of a disability. For families with a pet, there was no significant relationship between engagement in pet-care chores and executive function skills. Conclusion: We strongly recommend that further research explore the relationship between chores and executive functions. It is possible that parents may be able to facilitate their child's executive function development through encouraging participation in chores, whereas chore-based interventions (e.g., cooking programmes) may also be used to target deficits in ability.
... Renowned experts in linguistic anthropology, Ochs and colleagues' research in the Center on the Everyday Lives of Families (Klein et al., 2009;Kremer-Sadlik, 2013, 2015b) has made valuable contributions to understanding middle-class patterns of children's everyday prosocial helping. Using detailed linguistic analyses, Ochs and Kremer-Sadlik (2015a) illustrate "coordination troubles" among middle-class families in Los Angeles where parent-child talk both reflects and reifies cultural values, expectations, and ethnotheoretical assumptions. ...
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This study examined linguistic patterns in mothers’ reports about their toddlers’ involvement in everyday household work, as a way to understand the parental ethnotheories that may guide children’s prosocial helping and development. Mothers from two cultural groups – US Mexican-heritage families with backgrounds in indigenous American communities and middle-class European-American families – were interviewed regarding how their 2- to 3-year-old toddler gets involved in help with everyday household work. The study’s analytic focus was the linguistic form of mothers’ responses to interview questions asking about the child’s efforts to help with a variety of everyday household work tasks. Results showed that mothers responded with linguistic patterns that were indicative of ethnotheoretical assumptions regarding children’s agency and children’s prosocial intentions, with notable contrasts between the two cultural groups. Nearly all US Mexican-heritage mothers reported children’s contributions and participation using linguistic forms that centered children’s agency and prosocial initiative, which corresponds with extensive evidence suggesting the centrality of both children’s autonomy and supportive prosocial expectations in how children’s helpfulness is socialized in this and similar cultural communities. By contrast, middle-class European-American mothers frequently responded to questions about their child’s efforts to help with linguistic forms that “pivoted” to either the mother as the focal agent in the child’s prosocial engagement or to reframing the child’s involvement to emphasize non-help activities. Correspondence between cultural differences in the linguistic findings and existing literature on socialization of children’s prosocial helping is discussed. Also discussed is the analytic approach of the study, uncommon in developmental psychology research, and the significance of the linguistic findings for understanding parental ethnotheories in each community.
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This chapter focuses on responsibility and cooperation as recurring themes that emerged from the narratives told by 11 teenage and adult, deaf and hearing, heritage signers in Australia, and 17 young heritage signers and 10 deaf parents in England. Data was collected through a mixed-methods study of semi-structured interviews and group interviews using vignette and visual methods. This chapter explores how the act of sign language brokering typically emerges because heritage signers have a sense of responsibility that comes from the desire to cooperate and to be helpful to their deaf parents, and that it is just something that they do as part of family life. However, the narratives illustrate tensions on both sides, from heritage signers about when they offer and when they are asked, and from deaf parents in wanting to allow their children to be helpful but feeling uncomfortable about accepting help. From both perspectives, heritage signers and deaf parents agree that there are clear boundaries around when, how and what kinds of brokering is appropriate in terms of the contexts where heritage signers broker and the responsibility they take on for brokering.
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el presente capítulo analiza las prácticas comunicativas que dirigen y organizan la atención de los niños en el trabajo doméstico en familias mayas zinacantecas de Chiapas, México. En esta comunidad se toma por supuesto que los niños participan en las diversas tareas domésticas, por lo que normalmente no reciben instrucciones para marcar e iniciar la actividad, para negociar si se hace o no, sino, en ciertos casos específicos, para monitorearla y precisarla cuando no son totalmente competentes en esta.Para examinar este punto me interesa enfocarme en los directivos, formas discursivas diseñadas para lograr que alguien realice una acción (Goodwin 1990: 64, 2006a; Ervin-Tripp, 1976, 1982; Ervin-Tripp y otros 1984: 116). Al examinar las secuencias de directivos y las estrategias interactivas en su diseño y negociación entre adultos y niños descubrimos un área de gran interés en la socialización a la participación y la organización de la atención y el aprendizaje. Observo que los directivos se usan para «afinar» o «calibrar» la atención por medio de: (i) formulaciones «didácticas» cuya función es el adiestramiento en la tarea, así como por (ii) una apelación a una ética del trabajo y la responsabilidad. Esta función de los directivos resulta del supuesto de que el niño/niña está realizando un trabajo activo de atención, y su participación en la actividad no es cuestionada ni negociada sino presupuesta por todos los participantes. El trabajo se enmarca en la participación y la agencia de los niños/as indígenas en actividades de pertinencia cultural.
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Using data from a random sample of 790 Nebraska parents, this paper reports on extent of children's involvement in the household division of labor and the meaning of this work for the family. These data indicate that children's chores are an ubiquitous feature of family life. Based on parental report, four rationales for these chores are discussed: developmental, reciprocal obligation, extrinsic, and task learning. The relationships between these meanings of work and structural and family characteristics are explored. It is suggested that these meanings form a family theme, providing insight into values surrounding the parent-child bond and the duties that parents and children owe one another.
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List of photographs Foreword by Shirley Brice Heath Acknowledgements 1. To know a language 2. Methodology 3. Introduction to Samoan language usage: grammar and register 4. The social contexts of childhood: village and household organisation 5. Ergative case marking: variation and acquisition 6. Word-order strategies: the two-constituent bias 7. Clarification 8. Affect, social control and the Samoan child 9. The linguistic expression of affect 10. Literacy instruction in a Samoan village 11. Language as a symbol and tool Appendix I. Transcription conventions Appendix II. Canonical transitive verb types in children's speech References Index.
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Preface (1994)AcknowledgmentsIntroduction31From Mobs to Memorials: The Sacralization of Child Life222From Useful to Useless: Moral Conflict Over Child Labor563From Child Labor to Child Work: Redefining the Economic World of Children734From a Proper Burial to a Proper Education: The Case of Children's Insurance1135From Wrongful Death to Wrongful Birth: The Changing Legal Evaluation of Children1386From Baby Farms to Black-Market Babies: The Changing Market for Children1697From Useful to Useless and Back to Useful? Emerging Patterns in the Valuation of Children208Notes229Index267
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The effects of family employment structure on adolescents' participation in family chores are investigated with a national longitudinal sample. Results indicate that dual-earner families are more sexist than traditional families with respect to time in chores demanded of sons and daughters. Sons in full-time dual-earner families spend only one-third as much time on chores as sons in traditional families, while daughters in full-time dual-earner families spend 25% more. Part-time dual-earner families obtain virtually no housework from either sons or daughters. While traditional families require equal amounts of chore time from sons and daughters, they assign them along sex-stereotyped divisions of labor. For the adolescents in this study, only current family employment type influences time in chores; childhood family employment type does not have an effect.