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The Rational Household Theory Examined

Does equalization in wages change the sexual division of labor?

TANAKA Sigeto (tsigeto(AT)nik.sal.tohoku.ac.jp)

An article for "Special Section: Quantitative Studies in Gender and Sexual Division of Labor".
Riron to houhou (Sociological theory and methods), official journal of the Japanese Association for Mathematical Sociology.
ISSN 0913-1442
Vol. 14 (no. 1): pp. 19-34 (1999).


This paper examines which of the two versions of the rational household theory is the case with the postwar Japan society. The radical version of the theory postulates that the sexual division of labor is a consequence of the household's endeavor at efficient arrangement of the member's labor under the given difference between men and women in the comparative advantages in market earnings and home production. This version predicts that the sexual equality in market earnings reduces the comparative advantages and brings gender-free household responsibilities. The moderate version of the theory, in contrast, postulates that sex roles are not interchangeable and households are prohibited from rebelling against the basic gender regime in modern societies: Though women's labor may shift from their households to the market when their market earnings approach to men's, their husband's labor never shifts from the market to their households. This version predicts that men are doomed to be full-time breadwinners, while women to be housekeepers and caretakers, whatever changes occur in their wages.

The author analyses longitudinal changes in Japanese nationwide survey data as follows:

Results show the persistence in the gender regime despite the sexual equalization in market earnings:

  1. the wage gap between both sexes has been narrowed for younger age groups; however,
  2. women's continuous full-time employment has not risen, and
  3. men's participation in housework is not observed.

These findings suggest a flaw in the radical version of the rational household theory. The moderate version better explains trends in the sexual division of labor in postwar Japan, where wage equalization in the labor market does not led to egalitarian labor allocation within the household.

Table of Contents

1. Two Versions of the Rational Household Theory

2. Two Approaches Come to the Intersection

3. Changes in the Wage Gap

4. Changes in Women's Employment

5. Changes in Men's Housework

6. Discussion



Duplication in any form without the authors' permission is forbidden. Offprint of the paper is available through direct correspondence with the authors.
The journal back number is available from Japanese Association for Mathematical Sociology: 1,400 yen per volume (postage included).
Tanaka Sigeto (tsigeto(AT)nik.sal.tohoku.ac.jp)

Created: 2002-04-01. Updated: 2002-04-01.