The impact of telecommuting on the division of labour in the domestic setting

G.J. Casimir

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


<p>When people start working at home, it is plausible that the division of labour within the home will change, in particular the division between men and women. Gerda Casimir studied these changes, by analysing the results of an Internet survey, to which 171 respondents reacted. The core of the questionnaire consisted of 9 daily recurring tasks. For each task three questions were asked: who does this task on your home-working days, who does it on the other days and who did it before you started working at home? The respondents were recruited from companies with telework projects and defined as employees working in their own domestic environment for at least one day per week, on a structural basis, using modern information and communication technology.</p><p>It was assumed that male telecommuters would not automatically take up more household tasks when working at home. Female telecommuters, on the other hand, were expected to perform more domestic tasks, in particular when the division of tasks was already asymmetrical before they started working at home. Families aspiring to a more symmetrical division of labour might use telecommuting as a strategy to realise or enhance this. Furthermore, it was suggested that telecommuting would amplify the extent of home-production. It was expected that family-oriented women would positively assess the changes in the direction of a reinforced housewife's role, whereas career-oriented women would evaluate this negatively.</p><p>The results of the survey were surprising in several ways. None of the assumptions above was convincingly supported by the results of the survey. Male telecommuters increased their contribution more than female telecommuters did. Half of the male telecommuters did take up more household tasks, more than half of the female telecommuters did not change the division of domestic labour within their households. Asymmetrical households did not become more asymmetrical after telecommuting. Also, there was no indication of the utilisation of telecommuting as a strategy to realise an aspired change in the division of domestic labour. There were only some indications of the increase of domestic production.</p><p>Most changes were reported in the area of childcare, getting children from school and cooking. Men picked up their children from school 7 times more than before they started telecommuting, and they took care for them 4.6 times more. Next to that, they cooked 2.4 times more than before. For women, the relative increase was only 1.8 for getting children from school, 2.3 for childcare and 1.6 for cooking. Doing the dishes and daily cleaning changed the least under the influence of telecommuting. However, despite the considerable increase of male contribution, women still performed the majority of domestic labour.</p><p>Based on the sex of the telecommuter on one hand, and the degree and direction of change in the division of domestic labour on the other, theoretically six types of households could be discerned. Four of those appeared to occur in reasonable numbers:</p><OL><LI>households with a female telecommuter, changing in a more traditional direction (female partner does more tasks than male partner; 16% of cases);</LI><LI>households with a male telecommuter, no changes in division of domestic labour (28% of cases);</LI><LI>households with a female telecommuter, no changes (22% of cases);</LI><LI>households with a male telecommuter changing to a more symmetrical division of domestic tasks (29% of cases).</LI></OL><p>The increase of tasks performed by male respondents corresponds with general trends in Dutch society and marks a tendency to an increased participation of men in household activities. Many couples desire combinations of care and paid work. An increasing number of men are involved in childcare. Next to gender, the earner type of a household and the level of education of the telecommuter proved to be distinguishing variables. The division of unpaid labour is closely related to the division of paid labour. Single-earner households with a male telecommuter did change less than one-and-a-half-earners or double-income families. The latter changed more than average in the direction of a more symmetrical division of domestic tasks. Remarkably enough, telecommuting women with a university background changed more than average in a traditional direction. Before they started working at home, they shared most tasks with their partners. Since working at home, they took over most tasks. They seemed to want the best of both worlds: having a career and being a good mother.</p><p>In this research, a negative correlation was found between egalitarian opinions and symmetry in the division of domestic labour. Men with the highest score on the egalitarianism scale were the ones who contributed the least to the household tasks and vice versa. An explanation for this outcome is the emphasis on free choice: nobody <em>has</em> to share tasks evenly. If not desired, not appropriate, or not feasible in their situation, people can make other choices. Individuality and multiformity are characteristics of modern society. People make their own choices out of magnitude of available possibilities, thus creating new arrangements. On the other hand, household patterns are subject to normative structures and morality. Moral obligations and expectations, ideals and unwritten rules, make that household arrangements do not follow the rules of the market economy and do not easily change. This moral character of the family household might be an explanation for the fact that some of the observed households became or remained asymmetrical, even when the opinions of the respondents concerned were egalitarian.</p><p>One of the ideas behind this research was that policy makers and organisations should take account of the home front when implementing telecommuting. If household members of telecommuters do not accept their being home, or if home is not the benign place that it is often assumed to be, then telecommuting projects are doomed to failure. The more appeal the organisation makes to the worker, the more important the attitudes in his or her social environment - of the partner and children, friends and relatives - are. The more the organisation asks from its employee, the more it has to empathise with his or her individual situation. This research supported the idea that boundaries between work and private life are blurring and that telecommuters make an effort to balance both worlds. However, more research is needed to know where the limits exactly are. How flexible are the teleworkers? Do they really want to change the rhythm of the working week, which is still firmly embedded in Dutch culture? How much do telecommuters differ in this respect from non-home-working employees? Also, more research is needed to know if the observed increase in symmetry is really a result of telecommuting <em>per se</em> , or a reflection of general cultural change.</p>
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Niehof, Anke, Promotor
  • Terpstra, P.M.J., Promotor
Award date2 Nov 2001
Place of PublicationS.l.
Print ISBNs9789058084873
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • households
  • division of labour
  • housework
  • organization of work
  • information technology
  • social change
  • family life
  • netherlands
  • homeworkers

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