Breaking the "Iron" Barrier: Implications of Deviance Neutralization Theory on the Division of Household Labor and Health

Open Access
Sawyer, Katina
Graduate Program:
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
April 13, 2009
Committee Members:
  • Jeanette Cleveland, Thesis Advisor
  • Dr Jeanette Cleveland, Thesis Advisor
  • Female Breadwinner
  • Health
  • Household Labor
This study examined the interplay of gender dynamics in working Australian married couples. The effects of gender norms and hours worked both inside and outside of the home on health, satisfaction, and work-family conflict was examined. The goal of this study was to demonstrate that the way in which household labor is divided, as predicted by gender, hours worked, and income level relative to one’s spouse, can have serious health effects on women and men in married couples, both directly and in combination with work-family conflict and perceptions of fairness. Further, this research examined whether or not gender ideology can explain the relationships among conflict, fairness perceptions, and health among married working couples. The tenets of deviance neutralization theory (Greenstein, 2000) suggest that women are breaking with gender norms when they are the female breadwinner. Thus, the principles of this theory demonstrate that female breadwinners may attempt to preserve gender roles within the home (females perform more housework than their husbands). For the purposes of this paper, female breadwinners who also do the majority of housework were termed “lionesses.” Using HILDA data, Wave 5 (2005), this paper demonstrated that the majority of women still performed more housework than their husbands, whether they were a breadwinner or not. Further, although gender norms were not a significant predictor of the household division of labor, those women who were lionesses reported the same level of work-family conflict and satisfaction with the division of household labor/childcare as their counterparts who did not perform the majority of housework. Although this paper did not demonstrate that overall physical or mental health differences were observed between lionesses and non-lionesses within the female breadwinner subsample, significant differences were found in one facet of mental health – emotional functioning. Thus, this paper contributes to the literature by demonstrating the possible negative effects of continuing to perform greater amounts of work both inside and outside of the home for lioness women. Further, this paper also demonstrated that lioness women may not report greater work-family conflict or lower fairness, despite the fact that hours worked within the home were greater overall.