A Case of Sticky Gender? Persistence and Change in the Division of Household Labor during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Michelle Cera, Golda Kaplan, Kathleen Gerson, Barbara Risman

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Contemporary research finds that gender continues to provide an organizing framework for couples’ allocation of household labor. To explain this outcome, scholars focus on how structural arrangements and cultural beliefs contribute to the persistence of gender inequality in domestic labor. Yet scholarship has yet to fully clarify what combination of cultural and structural factors create persistent gender inequality in household labor. We use the COVID-19 pandemic as a naturally occurring event in which arrangements for childcare and work were upended, making it possible for many to rethink their household arrangements. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 81 respondents in heterosexual dual-earner couples, we examine how change in structural arrangements allowed some couples to develop a more egalitarian division of domestic labor. We also examine why an unequal division of labor persisted for most couples even amid the dramatic changes in their work and childcare arrangements and, for some, a strong desire to do so. We theorize that, taken alone, neither cultural attitudes nor shifts in the organization of work are sufficient to remove the stickiness of gender inequality in household work. Instead, structural change offers the possibility to change behavior, but only if cultural beliefs exist that make such change desirable.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article number182
    JournalSocial Sciences
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - Apr 2024


    • caregiving
    • COVID-19
    • gender and work

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Social Sciences


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