Hiring Domestic Help in Hong Kong: The Role of Gender Attitude and Wives’ Income

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   Journal of Family Issues 1  –27© The Author(s) 2015Reprints and permissions:sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0192513X14565700 jfi.sagepub.com  Article Hiring Domestic Help in Hong Kong: The Role of Gender Attitude and  Wives’ Income Adam Ka-Lok Cheung 1  and Lake Lui 2 Abstract The associating factors of hiring domestic help have not been thoroughly studied in a non-Western context. Using household survey data ( N  = 974), this article investigates the interactive role of gender attitude and women’s income on the decision to hire domestic help in Hong Kong. Some previous studies fall short in finding a significant association between respondents’ gender attitudes and the hiring of domestic help, while wives’ income is a consistent factor in the hiring of domestic help across a number of studies. In this study, we found that husbands’ traditional gender attitudes and wives’ high income sharply increase the likelihood of hiring domestic help. However, their associations with the hiring of domestic help are conditional on each other. In addition to women’s socioeconomic status, ideational factors should be taken into account in projecting local demand for domestic help and in understanding the increasing trend of domestic outsourcing. Keywords gender and family, household labor, work and family, domestic help, domestic outsourcing, Hong Kong 1 Hong Kong Institute of Education, New Territories, Hong Kong 2 University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA Corresponding Author: Adam Ka-Lok Cheung, Department of Social Sciences, Hong Kong Institute of Education, D3-1/F-22A, 10 Lo Ping Road, Tai Po, New Territories, Hong Kong. Email: adam.kalok@gmail.com  JFI   XX   X   10.1177/0192513X14565700Journal of Family Issues Cheungand Lui research-article   2015  at Hong Kong Institute of Education on January 7, 2015 jfi.sagepub.comDownloaded from   2  Journal of Family Issues Introduction Working women in postindustrial societies are increasingly caught in work– family conflict. Many of them are struggling to satisfy the demands of two “competing devotions”—family devotion and work devotion—that are both time-intensive and emotionally demanding (Blair-Loy, 2005). In response to this double burden on women, husbands have steadily increased their partici- pation in housework, although they have never reached parity with women. Certain research findings suggest that the increase is only marginal (Baxter, 2002; Bianchi, Milkie, Sayer, & Robinson, 2000; Gershuny, 2000; Hook, 2006; Windebank, 2001). Although some studies show that the total time women spend doing housework has decreased, others suggest that there are “unquantified” household responsibilities that intensify the domestic work-load (DeVault, 1991; Doucet, 2001; Lee, 2002; Lui, 2013).Past studies show that women have three main options when seeking to resolve work–family conflict (Gershuny, Bittman, & Brice, 2005). First, some women “exit” by either leaving the marriage or altering their employ-ment status. They may leave their jobs or reduce their working hours to accommodate their children and husbands’ schedules. Second, some women “suffer” through what Hochschild (1989) calls “supermoming,” continuing to bear the tension between work and family (Crompton & Lyonette, 2006). Third, other women choose to directly “voice out,” confronting and negotiat-ing with their husbands to address unfair household arrangements (Gershuny et al., 2005; Kluwer, Heesink, & Van de Vliert, 1996). In general, however, many women who use these strategies remain discontented because of their sacrifices (Blair-Loy, 2005), increased conflict with their unmotivated hus- bands, or both (Hochschild, 1989, 1997).Outsourcing household tasks seems to be a feasible strategy to reduce both work–family conflict and marital conflict (Hochschild, 1989, 1997). A num- ber of recent studies have suggested that households in many postindustrial societies are increasingly outsourcing domestic tasks traditionally carried out  by wives, such as meal preparation, housekeeping, and child care (Baxter, Hewitt, & Western, 2009; Bittman, Matheson, & Meagher, 1999; Oropesa, 1993; Soberon-Ferrer & Dardis, 1991). 1  As a result, demand for domestic helpers is escalating. In the United Kingdom, household spending on domes-tic workers increased from £1.1 billion in 1987 to £4.3 billion in 1997 (Anderson, 2000). In Hong Kong, the number of full-time, live-in foreign domestic helpers increased from 21,517 in 1982 to 237,104 in 2002 (Task Force on Population Policy, 2003). At least one fifth of Hong Kong house-holds earning HK$40,000 or more a month hired a domestic helper in 2001 (Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department, 2001).  at Hong Kong Institute of Education on January 7, 2015 jfi.sagepub.comDownloaded from   Cheung and Lui 3 The factors that lead households to hire domestic help have not been thor-oughly studied, especially in non-Western contexts. Although past studies show that women’s high absolute income is a consistent factor in hiring domestic help, the role of gender attitude is controversial (e.g., Baxter et al., 2009; Bittman et al., 1999; Oropesa, 1993; Spitze, 1999; van der Lippe, Tijdens, & de Ruijter, 2004). Some studies have asserted that individuals with more traditional gender attitudes are less likely to outsource domestic work, as they may believe that it is a woman’s responsibility to do housework. However, other studies show that there is no significant association between respondents’ gender attitudes and the hiring of domestic help (Baxter et al., 2009; Oropesa, 1993). With couple-level data, van der Lippe, Frey, and Tsvetkova (2013) show a gender-specific effect of gender ideology on hiring domestic help whereby the likelihood of hiring help for tasks such as home maintenance and child care is associated with men’s gender ideologies but not women’s. Given these inconsistent results, our primary research goal is to examine whether and how a woman’s income and an individual’s gender attitude matter in the use of paid help. We hypothesize that there is an interac-tion effect between gender attitude and women’s income.Studies of women’s autonomy have shown that with higher absolute income, wives can buy themselves out of housework (Gupta, 2006, 2007). However, Blumstein and Schwartz (1983) find that gender ideology is a moderator of income and household arrangements. This implies that a wife’s income does not necessarily translate into power in the household, including in the decision to hire help. A wife with high income might find herself less powerful when negotiating with her husband if he has a traditional gender attitude and is not willing to share housework (Atkinson & Boles, 1984; Tichenor, 1999, 2005). Outsourcing may thus be a more feasible strategy for wives to deal with the conflicts between the family and work domains. Yet some tradition-oriented women do not take pride in their identities as major earners and might equate housework with “women’s work.” Therefore, it is also plausible that high-income but tradition-oriented wives might accentuate their “femininity” by deemphasizing their earnings and devoting more time and attention to their families. In this sense, wives with high income and traditional gender attitudes are less likely to hire help than are high income, egalitarian wives.Using household survey data from Hong Kong (  N   = 974), we focus on the interaction effect of individual-level gender attitudes and women’s income on hiring domestic help. Hong Kong is a good testing ground for studying the fac-tors associated with domestic outsourcing because its family devotion and work devotion schemas are both strong. Traditional gender ideology still pre-vails in this Chinese society despite the rising economic contribution of women and the increasing expectation that women will work outside the home.  at Hong Kong Institute of Education on January 7, 2015 jfi.sagepub.comDownloaded from   4  Journal of Family Issues Literature Review and the Present Study Household Resources and Hiring Domestic Help The resource hypothesis posits that greater resources, in terms of wealth, total household income, and the husband’s and wife’s income, allow families to have more funds for domestic services and thus more options to manage time (Baxter et al., 2009; Cohen, 1998; Oropesa, 1993; Spitze, 1999; van der Lippe et al., 2004; Windebank, 2001). Spending time on domestic work is not attractive  because the opportunity cost of household members’ time in terms of potential earnings in the labor market is higher than the cost of hiring domestic help. Warren (2003) uses the British Household Panel Survey of 1995 to show that 13% of the middle-class, dual-earner couples surveyed reported using a third  party to do household cleaning, whereas this was the case for only 3% of work-ing-class couples. Van der Lippe et al. (2004) find similar results in the Netherlands and assert that household resources are the most important factor in hiring domes-tic help for dual-earning couples. Similarly, Hanson and Ooms (1991) find that higher income families in the United States often employ domestic help. 2 When we break down household income into individual earnings, the results show that the impact of income on outsourcing is not gender-neutral. Treas and de Ruijter (2008) suggest that women’s earned income is more important than men’s for determining spending on traditionally female tasks such as laundry, housekeeping, and preparing meals. Cohen (1998) finds that the wife’s income predicts twice the spending on housekeeping as the hus- band’s income. Oropesa (1993) provides a similar result, showing that wives use their income to “buy out” their time spent on housekeeping. Wives’ income, rather than husbands’, is also more important for purchasing child care (Brayfield & Hofferth, 1995). Consequently, women’s rising income is consistently considered in the literature to be one of the most important fac-tors in projecting the demand of the domestic service economy.Cohen (1998) provides some caveats that should be considered when interpreting the importance of women’s income. Instead of a gender-neutral approach, he alludes to the relevance of gender ideology in the interpretation of income. Citing Gershuny and Robinson (1988), he argues that some women may only seek paid employment if they are able to make compatible housework arrangement; also women who have fewer children, or who have more cooperative husbands, may be able to keep their jobs longer or advance further than others. (Cohen, 1998, p. 222) This implies that the effect of wives’ income on hiring decisions could be confounded by gender ideologies that correlate with both “the wife’s income” and “hiring decisions” at the same time.  at Hong Kong Institute of Education on January 7, 2015 jfi.sagepub.comDownloaded from   Cheung and Lui 5 Gender Ideology, Household Division of Labor, and Hiring Help “Gender ideology functions as a lens through which many social processes and events are viewed, interpreted, and acted upon, based on the belief about what the relationship between women and men should be” (Davis & Greenstein, 2009, p. 100). In the literature on the division of household labor, gender ideology informs “what sphere the person wants to identify with (home or work) and how much power in the marriage she or he wants to have (less, more, or the same amount)” (Hochschild, 1989, p. 15). Traditionally, housework and child care are viewed primarily as the respon-sibilities of women, whereas breadwinning is primarily the responsibility of men. Doing housework is also an integral part of “doing gender” for women—an avenue on which to display a woman’s love for her family and subordination to her husband (Berk, 1985). However, with the ongoing women’s revolution and changing world economy, there is an emerging egalitarian “code of honor and identity for men and women that fits the evolving circumstances” (Hochschild, 1989). Gender ideologies are becom-ing more variegated, with Hochschild (1989) delineating three main types— traditional, transitional, and egalitarian—that are measured based on marital  power and the expectation of a production role.Many studies find that men with egalitarian gender ideologies take a greater share of the household labor responsibilities and have greater paternal involvement in child care (Bianchi et al., 2000; Blair & Lichter, 1991; Coltrane & Ishii-Kuntz, 1992; Evertsson, 2014; Presser, 1994). Qualitative studies also show that egalitarian men define success by their relationships with their children more so than by their paid work (Coltrane, 1998; Hochschild, 1989). In contrast, studies on women’s gender ideologies sug-gest that traditional women “do gender” more often and are less likely than egalitarian women to perceive unfairness in the unequal division of labor, and thus are likely to do more housework (Davis & Greenstein, 2009; Evertsson, 2014).As Hochschild (1989) suggests, gender ideals sometimes have to be negotiated within the framework of reality (given the constraints of time, energy, and money, for instance). Outsourcing domestic work, according to Hochschild (1989), is a gender strategy ideal for women who are “cautious,” “less disturbing,” and “compatible,” as it avoids the need to make men change. Groves and Lui (2012) assert that “hiring help” is sometimes a strat-egy for men to buy “the gift” of domestic help for their wives so that they can be released from housework. However, these studies are limited, as they do not tease out how the effects of men’s and women’s gender attitudes on the decision to employ assistance differ along with women’s various income at Hong Kong Institute of Education on January 7, 2015 jfi.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
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