Housewives are Happier

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Global Misperceptions

Dr. Abdus Sattar Abbasi

Human progress has transformed innumerable concepts of life on this planet and even beyond. We are witnessing unprecedented scientific and technological revolution for the last hundred years which according to some estimates have gained exceptional pace and now every decade represents a century in terms of knowledge expansion and growth. Social norms have also evolved; there are several dimensions of social life which surprise us being unimaginable just a century ago. History of mankind suggests that market forces do influence shaping up of societal values but it seldom happens that a custom once transformed returns to the past.

Industrial revolution led to women liberation and empowerment movements aiming gender equity and equality. Our generation witnessed hot debates on gender roles which still continue but not to that extent probably due to behavioral adjustments or turnaround in our approaches. Debate on gender specialization used to conclude on expressions such as conservative, old-fashioned, orthodox, traditional and what not. Domesticity and housewifery were synonymous to oppression and exploitation. Women education was promoted with the belief that employment would liberate women from unfair family responsibilities. So much so that some enthusiastic activists started demanding that mankind should search possibilities of sharing childbearing pains with both genders.

Nevertheless the spirit of entire debate remained economic wellbeing leading to happiness with the active contributions of both men and women. Despite the fact that contemporary sociology suggestsstructural-functionalism offering an essentialist defense for gender specialization leaving childbearing to women withexpressive role within the home and the instrumental leadership in the occupational system to men, still dichotomy of thoughts continues.

Scientific data suggests that in spite of the drudgery associated with stereotypically female work around the house, many women do, in fact, report personal gratification and meaning in the activities of caring for home and family. According to a few studies more married women achieved prestigious, highly paid and presumably meaningful careers due to increased women’s labor force participation. However, contrary to the early feminists’ expectations the general happiness of American and European women declined – at least as compared to men’s.

Judith Treasfrom University of California and her colleagues contend, “Research has yet to resolve whether the relationship of women’s life satisfaction and their paid employment is positive or negative. Theoretically, homemaking has been described as rewarding not only by gender conservatives, but also by contemporary feminists who champion the value of unpaid caring labor.  This contradicts the liberal feminist view of homemaking, which emphasizes the demoralizing aspects of domestic tedium and a restricted social role. As for paid work, there are arguments that women’s labor force participation undermines their life satisfaction and equally firm contentions that it promotes their well-being.Questions such as these need attention: Are homemakers happier than working women? If so, is this relationship dependent on mediating factors, such as the division of household labor? Does the relationship hold across countries? Or, do some countries have features that alter the gains to homemaking or buffer the strains of paid work?”

According to some other studies during this millennium, “Normative pressures and role conflicts are invoked as reasons that housewives will be happier. Social conservatives and cultural feminists hold that satisfaction comes from fulfilling traditional gender roles. A wife’s employment will erode her wellbeing if her paid work is out of step with the gender conventions of her social world. Public opinion still questions the advisability of married women’s paid work, at least full-time employment when children are preschoolers. Because of disproportionate responsibilities for the home, children and family employed women are vulnerable to dissatisfaction arising from the stress of work-family conflict. The strain results from diminished time available to satisfy household demands. Mothers who report having insufficient time with loved ones have lower well-being than do others. There are work-to-home spillovers, such as fatigue and emotional upsets which contribute to the dissatisfaction of working women.”

Studies in developed countries do serve as an eye-opener to determine the effectiveness of our century’s long struggle to ensure women participation in economic activities. These countries being leaders for such movements are reporting disappointing results. U.S. panel data confirm that married women who move into full-time employment are less happy with their marriages than housewives. Australian women who shift into full-time employment experience a decline in life satisfaction. In Germany, where the breadwinner-homemaker model is entrenched single-earner couples, who conform to this model, are happier than two-earner couples.

Probably we need to look at our traditional and religious perspectives to understand outcomes of these modern-day studies which emphasize gender specific roles. Because according to contemporary researchers such as PetraBoehnke from University of Hamburg Germany religiosity is positively related to life satisfaction. On the other hand according to researchers such as Kei Nomaguchi from Bowling Green State University Ohio and her colleagues, for working mothers, children exacerbate perceptions of time deficits leading to dissatisfaction.

An analysis of 28 countries found statistically significant and robust, happiness advantage for homemakers compared to full-time working wives. A notion that “homemaking is quiet death” finds no support today as opposed perhaps to the 1960s.

Happiness is a complex phenomenon; we can’t categorically conclude that homemaking is the only factor which guarantees happiness. However, overemphasis and exceptional campaigning under the umbrella of liberalism can’t promise satisfaction for women. We need to remain pragmatic while considering alternatives to determine appropriate choices in life. A balanced and rational analysis of situation linked with ground realities can help married couples negotiate gender roles for a happy and peaceful life. In my opinion, it is little too much to demand equal participation in economic realm from women when they are already contributing significant and probably more than equal share to the mankind by raising families and managing domestic lives. Now we have started understanding that doing jobs besides childbearing and domestic responsibilities is actually a kind of exploitation not liberation. We need to remain just and recognize that women should be allowed and facilitated to perform their gender specific roles conveniently without any coercion to contribute to the earning of a family.