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Ann Oakle

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The book Housewife, 1974, was written by the author Ann Oakley, the first British liberal feminist sociologist. A postgraduate student in the late nineteen sixties, Oakley embarked on a study of the attitudes and work satisfaction of British housewives towards housework at that time. It was the first leading study to consider housework as ‘domestic labour' as an employment. In her book Oakley refers ‘housewife’ to women’s unpaid work role in the home. She found that housework were not recognised sociologically and at that time all the issues were only focused on power, stratification, deviance and grand theory. Being a housewife and mum of two young children, Oakley asked herself the question as to why housework is not being sociologically recognised nor as a paid work. Hence the research being done and the book Housewife were published. A sociological classic, the objective of this book is to open a whole new study and change the thought of sociologist about housework and to make a major landmark in the new emerging feminist sociology. She endeavoured to reveal statistically the appalling nature of women’s working conditions in the home and their unpaid work and to challenge the set of conservative values which brand work as a man’s activity and assign women to the home in the role of wife, and also to dispute the biological determinist statement that women are reproducers and nurturers for whom housework is a natural extension of their maternal role. To amend these imbalances, Oakley wanted to expose men as oppressive employers and provide the gross biases against women in the realm of housework, a sociological meaning.
Oakley states the term ‘housewife’ in her book as,
‘’A housewife is the person, other than a domestic servant, who is responsible for most of the household duties, a woman who manages or directs the affairs of her household; the mistress of a family; the wife of a householder’’. (Oakley, 1974, p.1).
For her research, Oakley used unstructured, in-depth interviews and tape recordings in order to attain the results for her study. The main aim of the research was to find out woman’s level of feeling satisfied or dissatisfied towards housework. Her participants were forty young married housewives from suburban London in 1971, from middle and working class family depending on their husband’s profession, with atleast one child under the age of five. Further, out of the forty wives, Oakley then picked four housewives to do her in-depth interviews with tape recording that lasted two long hours.
This book also traces the historical development of the housewife role in the pre-industrialisation and explores the deep influences of industrialisation on how they emerged plus examines the circumstances of women today (at her time) which illustrated with her case studies.
Personally this book was chosen to be reviewed, firstly because, of my mum. Till today, she is and always been a great role-model to me and her role of being a mother and a housewife has been greatly manifested into me. Having these roles, is the best thing ever happened to me and it is an honour and a privileged thing to do. But to maintain the same qualities as my mum did in her time, personally felt it is impossible, so hard, unfair and greatly dissatisfying at times. Secondly through her book, Ann Oakley has made me realise that being a housewife doing housework is not all traditionally a woman’s job and her findings tells me that the housework used to be a shared duty between a husband and a wife running the household in the pre-industrialised era. It tells me that the birth of industrialisation has change the role of housewife so much so women are doing triple-shifts and remarkably found her book is so much relevant to my present housewife role and believe the same for the majority lives of other housewives globally.
Research Design: Qualitative
For her research, Oakley used a qualitative method. A qualitative method is an interpretive approach that researchers into seeking an understanding of the meanings that lie behind people’s behaviour. Being a feminist herself, Oakley used unstructured interview, a method widely used by feminist sociologist to convey a deeper feeling for or more emotional closeness to her participants. Unstructured interviews are more like an everyday conversation. They tend to be informal, open minded, flexible and free flowing. Questions are not-pre-set, gives Oakley some structure and direction when interviewing. Unstructured interview allow questions based on an interviewee’s responses and proceeds like a friendly, non- threatening conversation. Oakley used to go around to her participant’s house with a basket in her arms pretending being as friendly as she could to them. She said that most of the women in her research always ask her questions.
Housewife is based on tape-recorded two-hour-long interviews conducted in 1971. The sample, selected from the medical records of two general practices, consisted of forty London housewives, born in Britain or Ireland, and aged between 20 and 30 all of whom were mothers of at least one child under five. The sample came from two different areas of London: one a predominantly working-class area, the other a middle-class area; and the sample was divided into two equal halves according to class, the designation of which was based essentially on the husband’s occupation The reported aims of her research are to describe the housewife’s situation and the housewife’s attitude to housework; to examine patterns of satisfaction; and to suggest possible hypotheses to explain differences between housewives’ attitudes to housework and the housework situation. Her findings then later found that her particshown that the persisting inequalities in family life by her participants portrayed their domestic obligations as repetitive, unfulfilling and under-appreciated. She found little to support the notion that roles in the family were becoming more ‘symmetrical', with power more equally shared between couples.


Many problems were encountered by using this method. The sample size which was originally seventy-one had reduced due to the ethnic groups of the patients being controlled. As the respondents details were taken from the medical card, many of them had moved and the new address had to be followed up. The interviews lasted on average two hours so took only one sitting to complete. In order for Oakley to find what the housewives thought of housework, participants were asked to rate themselves on a scale of satisfaction. However this approach has the problem of the Oakley's interpretation as the respondents may use different calculations whilst making there judgments. Criticisms were made for using such a small sample as the results may not generalize to people who were not interviewed. However Oakley believes that 'statistical representation is not assured by the means of large numbers', and gave examples of the problems which occur whilst using large samples. quite influential among Feminists and there ideas are widely quoted in books about methodology.

The Registrar General defines that ‘’A housewife’s work is not regarded as work because she (housewife) receives no wage or salary for it. Not only that the housewife not get paid, but in almost all industrialised countries the housewife as a houseworker has no right to the financial benefits like sick leave, unemployment benefit and so on. Any benefit she qualifies, comes to her indirectly through marriage and because in marriage she acknowledges her condition of economic dependence

Content and Findings of Book
Ann Oakley has conducted a research on the housewife role, within which she considered several questions such as how the housewife role developed, what has an impact on it and whether there is greater equality in the household roles.

Pre-Industrial world:

Women participated in the paid labour market as their work was an essential part of the family economy. They were 'breadwinners' as well as men. However, their worked in industries such as cottage or cookery.

Early-Industrial world:

Women worked in the heavy industries (mines) and factories and were placed on the same jobs as men, but were paid less.

Later-Industrial world:

Women work was restricted, they were to look after children. (Guardianship of Infants 1925)
Also, they were pressured by man, who were paid more for the same jobs.
'Men used the emerging trade union movement to squeeze women into the hometo squeeze women into the home'
The development of the new ideology 'women-housewifes, men- breadwinners', man gained a status of 'a head of family'.
Men became separated from the daily routines, women and children became more economic dependent.
‘’Her conclusion is that ‘housework is work directly opposed to the possibility of human self-actualisation.

Compared her studies with housewives and factory worker at that time. the major finding here is that dissatisfaction with housework predominates with 70% of the women interviewed came out as ‘dissatisfied’ monotony is a common experience. Monotony means Uniformity or lack of variation in pitch. Three quarters of the sample report it, and 80% of these are dissatisfied with housework. Oakley compared her studies with factory workers and housewives where factory workers engaged in more skilled works and do less repetitive jobs. loneliness is a frequent complaint. Most of the women who are dissatisfied with housework report a low level of social interaction with others. This parallels the finding from industrial sociology that the opportunity to engage in social relationships with other workers is one of the most prized aspects of any job.
Autonomy means being Independent is the most highly valued dimension of the housewife role. ’Being one’s own boss’ – a phrase used by nearly half the sample and exercising control over the pace of work is a facet of housewifery which contrasts favourably with employment work housework is the most disliked aspect of ‘being a housewife’. Another disadvantage is the low status of the housewife role; the low prestige and trivialization of housework implied in the phrase ‘just a housewife’. A perception of low status is related to housework dissatisfaction - more of those who complain about their status are dissatisfied than satisfied
Housewives have a long working week. The average in this sample is seventy- seven hours, with a range from forty-eight (the only housewife employed fulltime at the time of the interview) to 105. experiences connected with women’s performance of jobs outside the home have some bearing on their satisfaction with work in the home. All the women who held high status jobs in the past (such as computer programmer, manicurist, fashion model) are dissatisfied with housework. This phenomenon can be described as a case of incongruence between the housewife’s separate statuses: the high status of one’s previous job contrasts with the low status of being a housewife....

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