Between market and demography: The ideology and practice of modern housework

Changes in political culture after World War II include a dramatic shift in gender politics and thereby also a devaluation of housework. Being a housewife is no longer the obvious role of a married woman, nor is housework an obvious object for policy-making. Professor Gro Hagemann heads an interdisciplinary research project on the changes in the status of housework from the housewife society of the 20 th Century to our contemporary society of gender equality politics.


The changes in the position of women and gender relations include increased participation by women in education, paid work and politics, as well as changes in marriage patterns and reproduction, modernisation of housework and the expansion of the welfare state. Many of these changes are well-known in most Western societies and mark perhaps the most important social and cultural transformation in the Western world during the second half of the previous century . This process has many common traits but also distinct national features, including aspects that are particular for the Scandinavian countries. American developments have apparently influenced these processes of change, as the USA has been a forerunner within consumerism, household technology and housing standards. All across the West the USA has represented a common reference, a 'language' to more nationally specific visions of modernity.

In the decades following the war, there were grand ambitions to recognise unpaid work and to include women/housewives in civil and social citizenship in Norway. Since the 1960s these matters have largely been neglected, while gender equality, participation in paid work and public welfare have been emphasised. Within modern capitalism housework has an ambiguous status, being part of the "informal" economy. It is defined as non-economic; yet its importance for the productivity and welfare of society is indisputable. From this perspective and by emphasising conceptualisations and politicisation of housework, the project seeks answers to amongst others the following questions:

- In which ways have married women and their unpaid work been defined through statistics, legislation, welfare politics and matters of citizenship?

- How is housework defined as an area of activity and knowledge, and how does this affect the daily routines and the ways of understanding, which govern them? NB!!

- How has the view of housework changed amongst the most important practitioners – women as well as men?

- How does the meaning of housework change when transferred to (white and black) markets, or as unpaid work within the family?

The project is funded by the Norwegian Research Council, and has established co-operation with individuals and institutions both in Norway and abroad. In Norway it has the following participants: Gro Hagemann, who works on the project "Housewife politics in Scandinavia 1920-1980"; Ingun Grimstad Klepp, SIFO, with the project "Why is she doing the laundry?"; and Anne Marit Myrstad, NTNU, with the project "It can be done like this! Housewife films as popular culture". Three doctoral candidates are involved in the project: Ellen Cathrine Lund with the project "Soap War: marketing housewives 1950-1970", in which marketing of household products in post-war Norway is the focus. Hege Roll-Hansen works on the project "Women's Place: statistics and the construction of gender", and Kristine Steensen works on the project "Men and Housework in the Barracks: how commuting builders experience housework".

The project hosted an international conference in Rosendal in May 2004, entitled "Housework: Labour, Consumption, Agency". Papers from this conference is collected in the last issue of FoSam's book series, Issues in Contemporary History, as the anthology "Twentieth Century Housewives: Meanings and Implications of Unpaid Work" (eds. Gro Hagemann and Hege Roll-Hansen, Unipub, 2006).

Published Apr. 14, 2011 1:37 PM