Gender Inequality in the Study of the Family

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 13
Words: 3481
Reading time:
13 min
Study level: College

When it comes to the analysis of a typical American family, ‘Gender Inequality is incomplete without the issue of ‘domesticity.’ The reason for the significance of ‘Domesticity’ in American gender inequality highlights the need for understanding the cause behind perceiving and having ‘domestic roles’ like an American woman is expected to perform ‘two-in-one organization work, i.e., market work and family work.

Developed around 1780, such organization work is responsible for what the gender norms are considered today in light of justifying, sustaining, and reproducing that organization. It was not until the turn of the nineteenth century that this way of life was changing, as domesticity set up the system of men working in factories and offices, while women stayed behind to rear the children and tend the ‘home sweet home. However, the dark side of ‘domesticity’ evokes the American traditional family values towards decline for the reason that there is an exponential increase in the number of children who are growing up in father-absent families.

But that does not mean that such issues are augmented in every culture residing and being followed in America. There is a significant difference between various cultures in which women, gender, and family issues are perceived accordingly. An example is a cultural difference between African American women and white women or white women and Brazilian women. Let us examine some characteristics and reasons that differentiate feminine roles in family values according to different cultures.


American norms suggest that domesticity can be defined in two ways in context with the problem of ‘gender inequality. The first is the way a woman is perceived in work organization that limits her in paying attention to childbearing or child-rearing. Though this characteristic does not successfully limit women to perform all organizational jobs today, it still defines the extent to which a job is and can be performed under certain time pressures.

Whatever be the working or executive level class in which women fit themselves, when work is structured in this way, giving them no time for their ‘ housework’, women are often unable to perform as an ideal ‘home’ worker. Therefore being a part of ‘official or social work’ women is blamed for ending the traditional family values, which gives rise to her social problems. Now, she is blamed as a mother if her children are found involved in drugs or teens dropping off school or are somehow found to be engaged in street crime (Sere, May-June 1996).

Here a father is not often blamed for the consequences as much as the mother. Hence woman’s inability to fulfill the traditional level roles give rise to many other significant issues along with domesticity’s second defining characteristic. The system that provides and enables women to serve as ‘dutiful’ housewives or mothers ends up cutting them off from most of the social roles that offer responsibility and authority.

This clearly indicates that ‘domesticity’ is such an issue that is present in every culture and tradition irrespective of those cultural norms. However, today in American culture, the prevalence of ‘single parenting’ is an issue worth to be analyzed.

Single-Mother Family

In America, the single-parent family concept is primarily about households headed by single mothers with minor children. Single mothers are the most problem-ridden group among those living in a substandard shelters in the United States.

Single mothers’ concept has emerged from the ideology of poverty as a moral issue. First, many assume that a low-income, separated, or divorced woman raising children alone is single by choice, discounting a man’s decision to leave a household with unsupported children. Second, many believe that mothers can pull themselves up out of poverty if only they would accept gainful employment in the market economy and work hard. Those excused from the work ethic are the elderly, the disabled, and children, who comprise clearly identifiable categories of the ‘worthy’ poor, deserving of social welfare benefits and society’s largesse.

The assumption is that single mothers with minor children are able-bodied adults who can make a rational, conscious decision to work or not to work outside the home, that they willingly choose not to work, and that their circumstances remain static over time. Therefore, mothers who turn to public welfare for their source of income are presumed to be lazy, living off the public trough, and in effect ‘unworthy.’ In addition, single mothers who receive public assistance but have never been married are branded ‘immoral.’

An alternative image is that of the poor single mother, usually, a woman of color, who may leave her children without adult-supervised child care while she works or is on a brief errand. Should an accident or injury occur when she is away, her image is that of the neglectful parent. Yet across America, when applications are made to establish neighborhood child care centers to meet the need, community resistance frequently emerges to deny these permits based on technical rationale: increased traffic, noise, or zoning restrictions.

When the single mother then stays home to provide full-time supervision of her children and needs to rely on public assistance in order to do it, she is branded as unmotivated. The increase in American single-mother families from 1970 to 2003 is from 3 to 10 million while the number of single-father families grew from less than half a million to 2 million. (Census, 2004) In western European countries like UK and Norway, mothers are not pressurized by their financial situations to leave their homes and are well supported by the public housing welfare institutions, while in Norway, single parents are compensated for their children expenses and education allowances along with housing allowances (Single-Parent Families, 2008)

Images of the white single mother of means and the stereotypical low-income single mother of color both perpetuate injurious myths about single motherhood in that they cause observers to make superficial judgments. Any single mother can be a successful American consumer and ‘make it on her own if she is in the work force; or, if she is at home, she is not a good mother. An underlying issue is the extent to which both images challenge the ideal of American domesticity. For example, there is deviance from widely held images of family life which include the idealized model of a breadwinner father and a housewife mother who follow prescribed and understandable roles.

Even though the single-parent family in the first image is perceived to be economically secure, neither family form has a male head of household, making the concept of single parenthood itself threatening in a patriarchal society. Therefore, not only do these recurring stereotypical images create a false impression of who single mothers are and what single motherhood is like, but they have subliminal power to cloud the debate over what families headed by single mothers really need (Mulroy, 1988, p. 5).

Culture and the Marriage System

Where there is culture, religion is there in the family. American culture reasons delay in marriage because marriage is expensive. The ceremony itself is expected to be lavish and the couple is expected to be well set up materially with housing and furnishings. A man must also be wealthy enough to support his wife and any of her children even if they are not his. The woman expects not to be in paid employment after marriage and to have at least one servant to help with the housework. Such a financial commitment is beyond the means of the poorest sections of Jamaican society, and often too of younger members of better-off families (Roberts & Sinclair, 1978).

Since Caribbean culture is based upon slavery, pregnant women and mothers were expected to keep up their full workload. From the slave owners’ point of view, Mason (1970) said that “It was generally accepted in the Caribbean islands that it did not pay to treat slaves well or breed from them; the best policy was to ‘work the slaves out’ and trust to more supplies from Africa” (Mason, 1970, p. 276). Any children born belonged to the owner. The biological father had no part to play, and the children were neither legitimate nor illegitimate they were the lawful property of the mother’s owner (Burns & Scott, 1994, p. 100).

English Marriage System provoked the concept of a traditional and proper marriage which means waiting until training or education is completed, careers established, and material resources accumulated. Therefore females in English marriage are regarded as independent individuals who are expected to establish an autonomous life for themselves that is difficult or impossible to dissolve by divorce.

Feminine Expectations

Like cultural differences, marriage and family experiences of white Americans differ from that of African Americans. Of course racial differences and problems that reveal to us ‘poverty’ are one of the main significant causes for such difference, but that does not indicate the reason behind African American women suffering. There are other ‘cultural inconsistencies’ between what families expect from women and what they perceive.

Therefore cultural values do not mean that a woman should seek or not seek employment. In fact, for women it is all about to understand those expectations that family members build. It is the culture that they need to understand for fulfilling all the family-role that demands from them to fulfil the responsibility for home maintenance and child rearing. The traditional feminist strategy that works for women’s equality states that a woman is expected work full time, with child care delegated to the market (Williams, 2000, p. 40).

Researchers reveal that in America, time affects career processes of women in a way that the total time spent in the labour force and firm-specific seniority both have a negative effect on departure from a job, regardless of the destination of the movement (Rosenfeld, 1992). Even in the job growth of single mothers, wages are not high enough to raise their families (Lerman & Ratcliffe, 2001). Research also shows that in the United States, married women are likely to turn to self-employment as a strategy for managing family-work conflict, although this is not the case for their male counterparts. Thus, women’s employment in non-standard types of work may correspond to their family cycles (Thang & Yu, 2004, p. 30).

In United States, family members expect from women to perform all her duties with responsibility which includes child rearing, caring for and looking after her husband, husband parents’ etc. there is no obligation to seek employment or not whereas in sub continental nations like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, priority is given to the way the women are bound to perform their dual responsibility, which includes farm and household production.

Women in South Asian nations are underestimated by their family members for the agricultural, labour, environment and rural production along with children rearing and family look after. Therefore the major difference between family roles is the way the family expects from the women. In the West, a woman is never underestimated for the dual responsibility which she performs while the South Asian woman is under valued, for the work she performs.

‘Gender differences’ exist not only between East and West, but various sub divisions of East and West are also not aloof of it. South Asian women, who are either home-grown within the West or from the Indian subcontinent, into different locales in West has resulted in a degree of disorientation among those who have studied them in factories, picket lines, youth clubs, women’s refuges or development projects.

Political, Economic and Social role of Women in Central Eastern Europe

If we see women’s role in Central Eastern Europe, it is obvious that there are similarities in Constitution, legislation, industrialization and urbanization. Women in the Industrial investment are characterized by means of production, Labour force structure, high percentage of women, including married women. The patriarchal principles included in family structure and relationships are similar whereas women’s authoritarian position within the family differs. Similarities exist in high mortality and infant mortality rates along with housing crises whereas differences in live birth and infant mortality are seen (Lobodzinska, 1995, p. 5).

In Central Eastern European countries like Bulgaria women occupy lower positions than men in the professional hierarchy and earn less. The difference exists between men and women earning and wages in terms of their ‘input’ in gainful employment and the amount of time spent in work activities. The fact behind less time investment in work activities is due to the lower earnings and to being strongly underrepresented in managerial, especially top-managerial, positions. Like American women, European women are also bound to housework and child-care, which do not enhance professional growth or career building.

The Social Inequality with respect to work and employment

Unlike Americans, Mexican wives and mothers are valued in the labour force. Mexican wives while fulfilling the roles of wife and mother are appreciated but leaned toward non-traditional sex-role attitudes, expecting their husbands to be flexible and assume some responsibility for housework and child care (Herrera & Del Campo, 1995).

Poverty is the basic characteristic of Mexico which has influenced its cultural heritage producing about 70 percent of Hispanic families maintained by married couples, 9 percent families are those maintained by a male with no wife present, and 22 percent by a female with no husband present. That means poverty is the factor that has influenced the lives of 23.4 percent Mexican American families (Flora, 2008)

On the one hand, women’s appearance in print reflected changes in female roles and rising expectations that accelerated with the rapid expansion of the urban-industrial economy during the post-war period. Urban middle-and upper-class women quickly seized new opportunities within a society in flux to expand their social participation. And as they entered the public sphere as consumers, gained admission to schools and professions formerly closed to them, and formed feminist organizations to press for juridical and civil rights, their consciousness changed.

Critics often say that American women are given freedom to express much more loudly and publicly than ever before their dissatisfactions with the status quo. They increasingly question traditional definitions of ‘female nature’, protested male abuses of power inside and outside the family, and adopt ‘scandalous’ modern fashions and habits as their own. While the press use their images to sell products, they use the press to vent their frustrations, to articulate their views and demands, and to communicate with one another (Besse, 1996, p. 2).


In terms of motherhood, African-American women are far more better as compared to white women for the reason they are more likely to bear children as teenagers, less likely to ever marry, more likely to experience marital instability, and more likely to become parents outside of marriage. As a result, poverty waits for women and a much higher proportion of African-American women are likely to become single parents. Furthermore, when the fathers are absent in African-American families, more than half of those families live in poverty, compared to about one-quarter of white father-absent families.

Motherhood is more respected and appreciated in European culture than in any other culture. Apart from the child day-care facilities and child-care aid available to mothers in Bulgaria, an important cultural aspect is manifested in the fact that Bulgaria still bears many characteristics of a traditional, rural society. Three nations living together under the same roof and grandmothers to take full-time care of their grandchildren is the glimpse of the importance of Bulgarian women (Lobodzinska, 1995, p. 62).

American policy administrators and social workers took unnecessary advantage of cultural intervention onto income support, for example, when they equated worthy motherhood with teetotal, English-speaking domesticity. Similarly, infancy protection programs spread medical information to women whose class, cultural, or geographic isolation was believed to impede healthy pregnancy, childbirth, and infant care.

Policy administrators and visiting nurses made health services a conduit for cultural reform when they defined the ‘American’ mother diet as the nutritional diet, for example. School reform was no less culturally loaded, in practice, than were mothers’ pension and infancy protection programs. One purpose of school reform was Americanization. By teaching foreign-born girls ‘American’ domestic virtues and foreign-born boys ‘American’ industrial virtues, reformed schools would turn ‘little aliens’ into ‘little citizens’. The maternalist gender and cultural agendas was mostly played out in the arena of school reform.

Gender inequality in context with motherhood according to various American maternalists is assigned to the work of American mothers depended on the reproduction of biologically, culturally, and ideologically ‘fit’ citizens. Behind public intervention into the practice of motherhood lurked the fear that ethnic, racial, and class deviations from Anglo American, middle-class maternal norms imperilled the cultural and ideological reproduction of a distinctively American citizenry.

Maternalist reformers fashioned universalizing policies, building a welfare state that linked the uplift of women’s material conditions through social provision to the uplift of mothers’ character and quality through Americanization. Maternalist policies defined ethnic motherhood in opposition to ‘American’ childhood and thereby in opposition to the best interests of the polity. Cultural reformers elaborated this view, arguing that although the individual instruction of mothers by home visitors, social workers, nurses, and dieticians was a continued tedious process because the habits of years have to be overcome; yet the children are the future citizens and it is not right that they should suffer. Since this cultural thought, motherhood became a cultural project.

Critical Analysis

Critical analyses of the family, and efforts to change traditional family arrangements, have been central to many feminist writings for the reason that the social gap between arising feminist dilemmas has been widening by the passage of time. A particular concern about ‘myth of the dependent wife’ though no longer has remained dependant directly, but indirectly today’s woman has not been able to establish her own individuality.

The main problem is that wherever feminism is concerned, the people in such theoretical explanations usually turn out to be largely male people, whose experiences are taken to represent those of both sexes. Thus, the explanations of recent changes in family structure that see ‘individualism’ as the prime mover are hopelessly flawed by their failure to appreciate that individualism affects women and men very differently (Burns & Scott, 1994, p. 170).

Feminists have pointed out that when the family is subjected to critical analysis and decomposed into its constituent members, things begin to look rather different. It becomes apparent that the interests of certain family members, in particular husbands/fathers, are much better served than the interests of other members, in particular wives/mothers; and that the ‘dependent’ wife provides large amounts of essential but unpaid and devalued service to others.

Though the feminist critique is not new since it has been applied to family arrangements in many different cultures and periods, but the result of the critique other than the involvement of male superiority and authority is nothing. It has made explicit the fact that what has been described by many people as the traditional family is just one of many variants that human societies have developed.

Because of elaborating work force and career structures around man’s interests the organization of work around men’s life cycles, the processes of reproduction and the existence of children are not ‘recognized’ in work force arrangements. Parenting responsibilities in an employee are defined as illegitimate and those people bearing such responsibilities (women) are seen as unreliable and lacking in commitment to the job. As a result, the job slots left vacant for women generally continue to be those deemed appropriate for such uncommitted people: lower status, lower paid, less secure, less interesting, and involving little or no possibility for advancement. No injustice is considered to be involved, because the woman’s job is conceptualized as secondary to her main life career of motherhood.

Other than to improve the economic conditions of the working class, there is a need to pay attention to the problems middle class and dual-career couples have juggling work and family responsibilities. Working hours must be adjusted in a way which provides opportunity for the mothers to look after their children, and any teenage children if they have as those teenagers have statistically high risk to substance abuse than those having two parents (Wetzstein, 1999).

A key problem has been identified as role allocation, wherein father does not equally share the housework and child care, in part because mother is reluctant to relinquish child care responsibilities which she still perceives to be her primary function. This unequal allocation creates an overburdened mother, because strides toward workplace equality have not been matched by equality on the home front.

On the other hand, in households headed by mothers, no other adult is available to whom roles can be re-allocated and responsibilities could be shared. These single mothers are not only overburdened; they are also role-burdened by carrying the full weight of all the roles allocated to them without benefit of the two-earner income, the emotional support, or the household/maintenance tasks many spouses in dual/career households provide. The single mother’s jobs have increased and her resources have diminished.


Besse K. Susan, (1996) Restructuring Patriarchy: The Modernization of Gender Inequality in Brazil, 1914-1940: University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC.

Burns Ailsa & Scott Cath, (1994) Mother-Headed Families and Why They Have Increased: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: Hillsdale, NJ.

Census, 2004. Web.

Flora Ida Oritz, (2008). Web.

Herrera, R. S., & Del Campo, R. L. (1995). “Beyond the superwoman syndrome: Work satisfaction and family functioning among working-class Mexican American women” In: Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 17(1), 49-60.

Lobodzinska Barbara, (1995) Family, Women and Employment in Central-Eastern Europe: Greenwood Press: Westport, CT.

Lerman I. Robert & Ratcliff Caroline, (2001) “Are Single Mothers Finding Jobs without Displacing Other Workers?” In: Monthly Labor Review. Volume: 124. Issue: 7.

Mason P. (1970). Patterns of dominance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mulroy A. Elizabeth, (1988) Women as Single Parents: Confronting Institutional Barriers in the Courts, the Workplace, and the Housing Market: Auburn House: Westport, CT.

Roberts G. W. & Sinclair S. (1978). Women in Jamaica: Patterns of reproduction and family. London: Research Institute for the Study of Man.

Rosenfeld, Rachel A. 1992. “Job Mobility and Career Processes” In: Annual Review of Sociology 18: 39–61.

Sere Adriene, (1996) “Reality Check: Inequality and the American Family” In Magazine Title: The Humanist. Volume: 56. Issue: 3. p. 30.

Single-parent Families, 2008. Web.

Thang Leng Leng & Yu Wei-Hsin, (2004) Old Challenges, New Strategies: Women, Work, and Family in Contemporary Asia: Brill: Boston.

Wetzstein Cheryl, (1999) “Mothers Take Lead in Teen Drug Fight: Fathers Urged to Take More Active Role” In: The Washington Times.

Williams Joan, (2000) Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do about It: Oxford University Press: Oxford.