Last year, in 2013, Environment and Urbanization dedicated an entire issue to gender and urban change here, and all of the manuscripts are worth reading. The one that caught my eye came from Sarah Bradshaw, who is a Senior Lecturer in Development in the Law School at Middlesex University, London.
Bradshaw, S. (2013). Women s decision-making in rural and urban households in nicaragua: The influence of income and ideology. Environment and Urbanization, 0956247813477361.
In this manuscript, Bradshaw does interview work in two communities, one urban and one rural, in Nicaragua, asking both male and female householders about work and contributions. Bradshaw is testing how women in married household make decisions about work, and how those decisions are viewed by their male partners. We have a goodish bit of economic and sociological theory that attempts to explain household work allocation.
It’s rather hard to suss out the chicken-and-egg aspects of women’s labor decisions. Ideology-based theories assert “women’s work” in two ways: since it’s done by women (for everybody else), it’s either a) beyond market price (the apologists), sacred, holy, etc or b) it’s valued at lower wages because the patriarchy values women’s labor less or c) demands that women put household production as the highest priority mean they are less valuable in the commodity workforce, etc. (Larry Summers) and d) they just suck at everything compared to men and thus deserve lower wages (because of c, or because misogyny!) There is also the problem that lower women’s wages mean that it’s logical for households to use women’s time rather than men’s, as the opportunity costs for doing so are lower. And so on, and so forth.
There’s no real sussing causation here but Bradshaw does interview work to see how women and men located in urban and rural settings. She interviews about 80 households in each setting; the urban setting was Managua. She found distinct differences in the way in which urban and rural women and men view women’s work. In rural areas, women did not consider what they did to be ‘work’ unless they were paid; their spouses also did not identify work as “contributing” to the household. Urban women were much more likely to be involved in income-generating activities for the household, and their household work. A quote is particularly telling:
One woman goes further in terms of what this means, noting that for one important upholder of social norms, the Church, a good woman is “…not exactly a slave, but not much less.”
Women in urban settings had more paid work opportunities available to them and thus, had a better position in household bargaining around labor distribution, and their spouses were also more likely to recognize paid work as a “household contribution.”