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Provider, helper, or free rider? : gender structure and gender inequality in household labor in East Asia

Global Center of Excellence Center of Governance for Civil Society, Keio University
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This study examines how gender is embedded in existing structure and daily interaction, creating gender inequality in household labor. Based on a qualitative study of married men and women from China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, I illustrate how various relational interactions create such gender inequality. Relational interaction between sons and mothers or sons-in-law and mothers-in-law conforms to the traditional gendered division of labor, freeing men from responsibility for household labor. Interaction between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law is regulated by hierarchal kinship and Confucian gender ideology. A daughter-in-law is generally expected to be the major provider of household labor while her mother-in-law assumes the role of housework helper. The roles of major household labor provider and helper are flexible, however, and can be interchanged between a mother and her daughter. Although mothers and mothers-in-law can ease the burden of housework for both men and women, they ultimately reinforce the traditional gendered division of labor in East Asian households.

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