The failing redistribution of roles between men and women: A psychological view and its unexpected consequences

R.A. Roe

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A major objective of social policy in Western-European countries during the last decade has been the redistribution of work and caring roles between mean and women. This aim has inspired social scientists to investigate the conditions for and the mechanisms by which such a role-change could be achieved. In spite of the policy measures taken and the research conducted, there are few signs of change in the desired direction. It has been found that, on the whole, the labour participation of women has increased while men s share in household and caring tasks has remained constant, and in some cases even reduced. The reasons for this paradoxical finding are still to be discovered. This paper presents a psychological view on the matter. It points out that factors such as the habitual nature of work behavior, the inherent conservatism of the role mechanism, traditional values, lack of competencies among the male, constraints on the combination of paid and domestic work task, and negative social and psychological outcomes reduce the opportunities for emancipatory role-changes, and enhance the chance of slide-back into old behavior patterns. It is suggested that opportunities for role-change are limited to critical periods in the couple s life cycle. A description is given of a hypothetical process of role-change that covers four successive stages. It is indicated how the aforementioned factors play a role in these stages, and how they can account for success and failure in the redivision of roles. It is noted that there exists a great discrepancy between dominant approaches in social policy, and to some degree social research, and the view of the issue presented here. Some implications for future policy-making and research are indicated.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUnknown Publisher
Number of pages31
Publication statusPublished - 1996

Publication series

NameWORC Paper / Work and Organization Research Centre (WORC)


  • labour participation
  • government policy
  • women
  • division of labour
  • psychology
  • families
  • domestic work
  • labour economics


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