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Is a Gendered Division of Labour Unjust? Essay

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Updated: Nov 3rd, 2020

The gendered division of labour is widely regarded as a critical manifestation of gender injustice. It has various implications for families. According to Bergen (2013), the gendered division of labour has multiple adverse impacts on women. Bergen (2013, p. 147) argues, “Women are made vulnerable by the gendered distribution of tasks long before they face choices about how to distribute their time between publicly remunerated work and private unpaid occupation”. Women become vulnerable as society expects them to spend considerable time taking care of their dependents. Thus, they are forced to choose certain career trajectories that deprive them of the opportunity to exploit their potentials. The labour market is structured in a manner that jobs, which accommodate the needs of women, are low-paying (Bergen 2013). A majority of women sign up for sales, teaching, nursing, and administrative jobs. The jobs have limited prominent positions and a small room for career development.

On the other hand, men do not worry about the responsibility of caregiving. Consequently, they effortlessly sign up for jobs that have prestigious professional positions. According to Berk (2012), the gendered division of labour has a high toll on women than men. Women continue to earn meagre salaries compared to their male counterparts despite being equally educated. This paper will discuss the injustices of the gendered division of labour.

Gendered Division of Labour

Berk (2012, p. 74) posits, “The gendered division of labour in the family does not merely denote the gender-based separate labour assignments in the household”. Rather, it has great economic, social, and cultural implications. The gendered division of labour is a facet of social structure. It entails the gender-based separate organisation of household and market work—the employment targets individuals who do not have major tasks for housework and work full-time. In most cases, labour market targets men as they do not assume household duties like taking care of children.

On the other hand, women are expected to bear the responsibilities of housework. Thus, they do not have an opportunity to engage in full-time employment. Berk (2012) argues that the distinct organisation of family and market work involves discrete gender responsibility beliefs, and prospects. Men are expected to serve as wage earners and women as homemakers. Additionally, society characterises men and women’s occupation differently. It uses social standards, customs, and practices to reproduce, maintain, and justify the gendered division of labour. As per Biernat and Wortman (2014), the gender division of labour is not an official socio-economic or lawful establishment. Biernat and Wortman (2014, p. 849) define it as a “social structure that includes all aspects of role expectations and ideologies, social rules and norms, cultural customs, socialisation, and education”.

Conditions for a Just Gendered Division of Labour

It is imperative to discuss the conditions that promote fairness in the workplaces to determine if the gendered division of labour is just. The society has to meet four conditions to guarantee a just gendered division of labour. They include equal opportunities, neutrality, the same limitations on choices, and just pay-offs. Men and women should have equal opportunities. Biernat and Wortman (2014) posit that the only disparities that are warranted are those that are beyond human intervention. The society should be structured in a way that no inducements are introduced against an individual domestic gender division of labour.

The condition of neutrality maintains that the society, “and in particular the government, should remain neutral towards the household gender division of labour, which people want to endorse” (Boje & Leira 2013, p. 19). The government should avoid introducing economic practices that might result in incentives, which contravene this neutrality. The constraints on choice should not be ordered based on ethically immaterial features like gender. In other words, in the labour market, gender should stop to exist as a societal construction. The average benefits and costs of a particular career should be the same for both men and women. They should enjoy the same non-pecuniary benefits, wages, and status if working in the same position. The pay-offs should not exhibit gender ideologies.

The Satisfaction of the Conditions

According to Boje and Leira (2013), the gendered division of labour does not satisfy the conditions necessary to promote fairness. Men and women are not given equal opportunities in the job market. Employers discriminate against women concerning remuneration, employment opportunities, and career development. Many men earn more than their wives. Discrimination impacts women’s opportunities, as well as the pay-offs of their prospects, such as income (Brooks 2013).

Additionally, it results in inequality between the wife and husband’s wage, which is a primary cause of injustice in the gendered division of labour. Many countries do not satisfy the condition of neutrality. It requires that nations provide adequate part-time jobs to enable families to make positive choices. Unfortunately, the United States and European countries do not avail sufficient part-time jobs (Brooks 2013). Moreover, employees who choose part-time employment are unduly penalised by being denied health care benefits or earning a low hourly wage.

Most vital social institutions do not take the issue of the gendered division of labour seriously. As a result, they do not uphold the principle of neutrality. According to Butler (2012), the labour market is organised around the belief that workers do not have a lot of caring duties. It underlines the reason most well-paying professions are full-time. It becomes hard for parents with caring responsibilities to get full-time jobs. Butler (2012) avers that many countries do not uphold the principle of just limitations on choice. Butler (2012, p. 35) poses, “The structural nature of gender shapes the context of our decisions, and influences our options, throughout life, especially when it comes to matters related to work and care”. There exist social customs associated with the perceptions of masculinity and femininity. Customs influence the choices that men and women make. In some societies, women are deemed to contravene standards of safe motherhood if they engage in full-time employment. Conversely, some Western cultures believe that caring for children lowers masculine identity amid men.

Many countries do not fulfil the condition of equal pay-offs (Craig, Powell & Cortis 2012). Jobs that are regarded as feminine pay lower wages than those considered as masculine regardless of whether they require parallel skills. Additionally, whenever the population of women increases is a particular occupation, the earnings decline. It has been the case with secretarial and teaching careers in many countries. Today, pay-offs of diverse occupations are asymmetrical due to the gendered division of labour. The partner who engages in an unpaid job loses most.

Statistical Discrimination

Craig, Powell, and Cortis (2012, p. 128) maintain that gendered division of labour becomes “so pervasive as to constitute a social norm which reinforces statistical discrimination on the part of the employer”. Statistical discrimination arises when the employer uses common group characteristics to evaluate people’s qualifications. The characteristics are used to assess the efficiency of members of the group. Many women have one or two kids and apply for maternity leave. Gheaus (2012) claims that women work for fewer hours on the job market compared with men because they assume the responsibility of taking care of family and the elderly. In other words, women have a high degree of career interruptions and are occasionally away from workplaces. At times, they are forced to quit their jobs to look after children. All these conditions lead to women not being suitable employees for many professions (Gheaus 2012).

Because of inadequate information, it is normal for employers to evaluate the productivity of each woman based on the average efficiency of all women. Men tend to give high priority to paid work, and thus a majority of employers prefer to hire them. The employers have reasonable grounds to single out women as they lack sufficient information regarding their productivity. A woman who aims at building a career for herself, and who does not have a lot of domestic responsibilities or kids, still suffers statistical discrimination. The employers have a general perception that women are never devoted to the labour market (Gheaus 2012). Companies impose a “motherhood penalty” on women with caregiving responsibilities. It underlines the reason the gender gap in remuneration continues to widen in most households that both parents work. Labour inequalities in the workplaces and homes significantly strengthen and perpetuate one another.

Material Risks

Specialisation in domestic labour is attributed to numerous material risks and consequences. Failure to contribute to labour market results in depreciation of human capital and a decline in total expected lifetime earnings (Becker 2013). The gendered division of labour leads to most women playing a passive role in the job market. Eventually, their human capital depreciates, and the total anticipated lifetime revenue goes down tremendously. Women who pull out of the labour market to assume domestic responsibilities end up losing not only their incomes but also non-pecuniary benefits. They lose contact with their previous workmates and cannot find an opportunity to showcase their competence. Employment serves as a critical source of self-esteem and self-respect for many women (Becker 2013).

Thus, when they quit work to assume caregiving duties, their self-respect and self-esteem are taken aback. The gendered division of labour leads to many women working in part-time employment. Such jobs offer them little pension rights, and they do not enjoy health insurance. Becker (2013) argues that the gendered division of labour contributes to power imbalances in most households. Although husband and wife may combine their earnings, the person who earns more has the upper hand in decision-making. Mostly, men earn higher than women, and they make decisions on how to spend money in the family. Women are not entitled to spend the family’s income on personal expenditures.

Impacts on Political and Societal Powers

Gonzalez, Jurado, and Naldini (2013) posit that the gendered division of labour contributes to disparities in societal and political skills. Men occupy a majority of the important and influential jobs. Most men work as politicians, religious leaders, bankers, directors, publishers, media makers, professors, and investors. Consequently, they influence public policy, control resources, shape social norms and determine public agenda. Gonzalez, Jurado, and Naldini (2013) claim that men who work in the mentioned capacities can easily meet and interact with people who can provide them with invaluable information and employments opportunities.

On the other hand, women occupy less influential and powerful careers. As a result, they do not control a lot of resources. Additionally, they have less influence over networks, money, jobs, and influential people. Gornick and Marcia (2013) argue that since women bear the largest share of unpaid and care work, they are unable to acquire power in business, politics, media and so forth. The gendered division of labour contributes to men emancipation at the expense of women.

Hierarchical Challenges

Acker (2014) holds that the hierarchy of power, income, and status that is attributed to the gendered division of labour is problematic and unjust. Two challenges are predominant in the gendered division of labour. They are forced specialisation and gendered forced specialisation. The problem of forced specialisation arises where “men and women are systematically obstructed from combining serious commitments to caring for others with similar dedications to attainment in the world of paid labour” (Acker 2014, p. 143). The gendered division of labour makes it difficult for household partners to share work equally effectively. The labour market presupposes that employees have no overwhelming caring duties. Research reveals the shortage of justly egalitarian families and documents the challenges that they encounter negotiating social institutions such as childcare facilities and labour markets. Men and women face difficulties in an endeavour to strike a balance between career development and caring responsibilities.

Social customs distinguish between males and females and compel them to assume societal responsibilities that contravene their characters and interests (Acker 2014). For instance, men are systematically prepared to bear the responsibility of providing for the family, and societal norms force them to assume those duties. Some men find the responsibilities unfulfilling and wish that they worked as caregivers. On the other hand, women are methodically prepared to be caregivers, and social norms compel them to assume those roles (Akcomak, Borghans & Weel 2011). Many women do not find caregiving duties fulfilling, and they prefer to specialise in paid labour. The gendered division of labour is unjust since it organises the society based on the notions that women prefer caregiving. At the same time, men are suited at negotiating the sphere of a paid job. Such suppositions are problematic. In some circumstances, they are self-fulfilling because people tend to embrace the qualities expected of them, despite not being contented. Some people abide by gender norms, including those that they find to be domineering. Sometimes, failure to comply with the standards results in severe sanctions. Akcomak, Borghans, and Weel (2011) allege that being compelled to embrace social roles that are unrewarding to avoid sanctions is unjust.

The Challenge of Double Shift

According to Hochschild (2012), a just society upholds equality among all people regardless of gender. It ensures that men and women share the troubles and benefits of living together equally. In other words, in a just society, no one is supposed to assume more responsibilities than others. Furthermore, no individual is automatically entitled to more benefits than others. The gendered division of labour is unjust because it systematically overburdens and deprives some people of the right to enjoy particular benefits due to sexual characteristics. For instance, it forces women to take on double shifts. A high number of women worldwide concurrently work in full-time employment and engage in activities meant to bring up children, maintain households, and take care of the elderly (Hochschild 2012). Women have more responsibilities than their male partners. Hofacker, Stoilova, and Riebling (2013) argue that even if women were to assume responsibilities voluntarily, the injustices prevail because of a systematic failure to reimburse them fully.

The Glass-Ceiling Effect

Kenneth (2012, p. 189) posits, “There is increasing evidence that much gender bias operates at the unconscious, and hence not directly controllable”. Even people who are consciously opposed to gender norms are predisposed to involuntarily appraising men and women differently. They have areas that they expect women to do better than men and vice versa. Furthermore, people are unconsciously responsive to gender customs. Consequently, they perform dismally in areas that they are expected, based on their sexual orientation, to fail. The gendered division of labour encourages unjustified discrimination (Kimmel, 2012). It leads to the introduction of various measures of the performance appraisal for men and women. The rules unjustly curtail the scope of career choice and equality of access for men and women.

In many cases, women have to prove themselves more than their male counterparts. Kimmel (2012) holds that for women to be regarded as capable, they must demonstrate superior performance. Lyonette and Crompton (2014) conceive that the gendered division of labour leads to women suffering psychological torture in an attempt to prove their worth. Some women are unable to bear the cost of the gendered division of labour. As a result, they do not have the freedom to choose careers. For those who overcome the burden of the gendered division of labour, they have difficulties acquiring top jobs, which are reserved for men.


The unfairness of the gendered division of labour occurs since the professional disparities amid men and women leads to the status inequity of gender by benefiting men at the expense of women. Schouten (2015) insists that the gendered division of labour results in the marginalisation of women in the job market. Moreover, it provokes imbalanced conditions for men and women in the political and socio-economic realms. According to Schouten (2015), the labour market is essentially organised around the principle of the “perfect employee standard”. Consequently, it is hard for women who bear the responsibilities of taking care of families to compete with “perfect employees” effectively. The household duties compel women to look for less demanding occupations. It underlines the reason many women work as part-time employees. The gendered division of labour results in women being trapped in part-time occupations where they are paid poorly and enjoy no benefits (Schouten 2016).

In the United States, women represent about 50% of the labour force. However, they only hold about four per cent of the highest paying posts in Fortune 500 companies. Webster (2013) claims that there are very few female chief executive officers (CEOs) in the United States. Additionally, a big percentage of the law school scholars are women but are few women work as federal adjudicators. The gendered division of labour leads to women serving in less autonomous, low paying, and dead-end jobs like teaching, secretarial, and nursing (Webster 2013). According to Williams (2012), women are not only marginalised regarding career development but also underrepresented in monetary compensations. A study by the Families and Work Institute found that men earn 33% more than what women make on a median hourly basis (Williams 2012). The gendered division of labour is blamed for the high level of poverty amid women and children. Over 57% of individuals who live below the poverty line are women (Williams 2012).


The gendered division of labour is unjust. For it to be fair, many conditions have to be fulfilled. They include equal opportunities, neutrality, similar limitations on choices, and just pay-offs. However, current evidence shows that the above conditions are never met. Studies show that the gendered division of labour benefits men at the expense of women. Women encounter the challenge of statistical discrimination, which deprives them of the opportunity to engage in paid occupations—the gendered division of labour results in many women playing an inactive role in the job market. In due course, their human capital downgrades and the total anticipated lifetime revenue goes down. The gendered division of labour denies women the opportunity to control resources and interact with influential people. Hence, they do not acquire political and social powers. It organises the civilisation according to the notion that women fancy caregiving while men are suited at negotiating the sphere of a paid job. It unfairly forces women to embrace social norms that are unrewarding to avoid sanctions.

Reference List

Acker, J 2014, ‘Hierarchies, jobs, bodies: a theory of gendered organisations’, Gender and Society, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 139-158.

Akcomak, J, Borghans, L & Weel, B 2011, ‘Measuring and interpreting trends in the division of labour in the Netherlands’, De Economist, vol. 159, no. 4, pp. 435-482.

Becker, G 2013, A treatise on the family, Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

Bergen, E 2013, ‘The economic context of labor allocation: implications for gender stratification’, Journal of Family Issues, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 140-161.

Berk, S 2012, The gender factory: the appointment of work in American households, Plenum Press, New York.

Biernat, M & Wortman, C 2014, ‘Sharing of home responsibilities between professionally employed women and their husbands’, Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, vol. 60, no. 6, pp. 844-860.

Boje, T & Leira, A 2013, Gender, welfare state and the market: towards a new division of labour, Routledge, New York.

Brooks, A 2013, Gendered working in Asian cities: the new economy and changing labour markets, Ashgate Publishing Company, Burlington.

Butler, J 2012, Undoing gender, Routledge, New York.

Craig, L, Powell, A & Cortis, N 2012, ‘Self-employment, work-family time and the gender division of labour’, Work, Employment and Society, vol. 26, no. 5, pp. 123-137.

Gheaus, A 2012, ‘Gender justice’, Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 1-25.

Gonzalez, M, Jurado, T & Naldini, M 2013, Gender inequalities in Southern Europe: women, work and welfare in the 1990s, Routledge, New York.

Gornick, J & Marcia, M 2013, Families that work: policies for reconciling parenthood and employment, Russell Sage Foundation, New York.

Hochschild, A 2012, The second shift: working parents and the revolution at home, Piaktus, London.

Hofacker, D, Stoilova, R & Riebling, J 2013, The gendered division of paid and unpaid work in different institutional regimes: comparing West Germany, East Germany and Bulgaria, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Kenneth, B 2012, ‘Ethos and institutions: on the site of distributive justice’, Journal of Social Philosophy, vol. 37, no. 2, pp. 182-196.

Kimmel, M 2012, The gendered society, Oxford University Press, New York.

Lyonette, C & Crompton, R 2014, ‘Sharing the load? partners’ relative earnings and the division of domestic labour’, Work, Employment and Society, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 43-62.

Schouten, G 2015, ‘Citizenship, reciprocity, and the gendered division of labor: a stability argument for gender egalitarian political intervention’, Politics, Philosophy & Economics, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 1-36.

Schouten, G 2016, ‘Is the gendered division of labor a problem of distribution?’ Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 76-83.

Webster, J 2013, Shaping women’s work: gender, employment and information technology, Routledge, New York.

Williams, J 2012, Unbending gender: why family and work conflict and what to do about it, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

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