Behind the Scenes: Gendered Household Labor Schemas of Managers and Helpers. By Brumley, Krista M. and St. George, Megan Edgar. 2023. Community, Work, and Family. 


‘She cooks; I’ll clean the dishes’. ‘My wife picks up the kids. I drop them off’. If we consider the physical tasks only, we have an incomplete picture of the division of household labor. The thinking, planning, and managing of family work remains unaccounted for and hidden. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 22 heterosexual parents in the US, we analyze both the physical and mental household labor. We propose gendered household labor schemas to understand the still persistent inequality in housework and caregiving. Our study finds mothers and fathers think about, identify with, and assess their contributions distinctly – as managers or helpers – respectively. Managers are largely responsible for the mental labor, unable to opt-out of tasks unless they delegate to their husband helpers. Helpers are able to opt-in, but do so primarily through the execution of specific, assigned physical tasks while the mental labor remains the responsibility of the manager, their wife. As an explanatory mechanism, gendered household labor schemas build on our theorizing on the construction of the division of labor and offer the space to understand why there are lingering inequalities of the physical division of labor.