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new internationalist
issue 181 - March 1988


JOB DESCRIPTION: You will be expected to 'live in' at place of work and provide cleaning, cooking, shopping, laundry, psychotherapeutic, nursing, teaching, entertainment and secretarial services for other inmates.

HOURS: You will be 'on call' 24 hours a day, 385 days a year, especially for psychotherapeutic and nursing services. But your regular work will take between 50 and 100 hours per week1, depending on: age, health and number of children or disabled people in household; standards of work demanded by employer; size and condition of house.

PAYMENT: An allowance is available, known as 'housekeeping money' when provided by employer and 'family allowance' or 'child benefit' when provided by the State. This money is intended to cover essential expenses such as cleaning utensils and food. There is no payment for your labour as housewife. Three out of four housewives have no money of their own and were described as 'financially battered' in a 1978 report in the UK3. In 1975, with inflation at 26 per cent, only 25 per cent of UK housewives received an increase in housekeeping money from their employers.4 Seventy per cent of husbands in the UK, 40 per cent in West Germany and 30 per cent in Switzerland do not tell their wives what they earn.

HOLIDAYS: Your duties will be eased if your holiday is taken in a hotel, but you will often be expected simply to do your normal work in strange surroundings while other household members enjoy their leisure. Research in Germany found only 21 per cent of housewives had a holiday the previous year, compared with 86 per cent of employers (husbands)2.

SATISFACTION: You may find your duties even more monotonous, fragmented and under continuous time pressure than assembly-line workers6. Seventy per cent of housewives in one study said they were 'very' or 'severely' dissatisfied with the nature of their work6. Two-thirds of working-class housewives and three quarters of middle-class housewives would like an extra job outside the home - largely because of frustration with their work in the home2.

Per cent experiencing:
Assembly-line workers
Factory workers

WORK HAZARDS: You will be 154 per cent more likely to die of cancer than women in paid employment7. Between 40 and 80 per cent of housewives in Bracknell New Town, UK, have an alcohol problem8. One in five Aotearoan housewives seek help for psychiatric symptoms9 - more than any other occupational group - and Australian women consume 70 per cent of all minor tranquilizers in the country10. Insomnia, palpitations, headaches, dizziness, nightmares and anxiety ('housewives' syndrome') are much more common among housewives than women in paid employment11.

JOB SECURITY: Your job will be continuously and increasingly threatened by divorce. In the US one in six marriages ended in divorce in 1940. Today two out of every three marriages are predicted to end in divorce'12. One year after divorce the divorced housewife's standard of living drops by 73 percent, while that of her ex-employer rises by 42 per cent12.

REDUNDANCY PAYMENTS: If made redundant (by divorce) you will only have a one-in-seven chance of being awarded alimony (money for your personal support) in the US12. Though 60 per cent of redundant housewives have children, 60 per cent of ex-employers contribute no money at all to the upkeep of those children12. Two-thirds of ex-employers are ordered (by divorce courts) to pay less in support of their children than they owe in monthly car repayments. Nearly all keep up their car payments but over half are delinquent with child support12. Unpaid child support totals $4 billion a year in the US12.

FRINGE BENEFITS: Your board and lodgings will usually be provided, but you will normally be expected to share a bedroom (and bed) with your employer.

1 L Goldschmidt-Clermont, Unpaid Work in the Household, International Labour Organization, Geneva, 1982.
2 H Gavron, The Captive Wife: Conflicts of Housebound Mothers, Penguin, 1966.
3 Liberty Lite Assurance survey, reported in Daily Mail newspaper, UK on 12 July, 1978.
4 L Leghorn and K Parker, Woman's Worth, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981.
5 Daily Express newspaper, UK, 19 April, 1977.
6 A Oakley, Housewife, Penguin, 1976.
7 Survey of 55,164 women by W E Morton, University of Oregon, reported in Los Angeles Times, US, 23 April, 1978.
8 Alcoholics Anonymous, UK
9 H Haines, Women and Mental Health in New Zealand, paper presented to Women's Studies Association Conterence, Christchurch, 1983.
10 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1984/5 Report.
11 E Haavio-Mannila, Satisfaction with Family, Work, Leisure and Life among Men and Women, Human Relations, 1971.
12 S A Hewlett, A Lesser Life: The Myth of Women's Liberation, Michael Joseph, 1987.

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New Internationalist issue 181 magazine cover This article is from the March 1988 issue of New Internationalist.
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