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close this bookWomen Encounter Technology: Changing Patterns of Employment in the Third World (UNU, 1995, 356 p.)
close this folder4. Conflicting demands of new technology and household work
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe context
View the documentThe restructuring of the textiles industry: Technology and new organizational models
View the documentTechnology-induced job losses
View the documentTechnical change and labour use
View the documentVocational training and retraining patterns for textiles: Implications for women
View the documentThe work environment in textiles
View the documentTextile workers' households3
View the documentWomen workers' perceptions and voices
View the documentNotes
View the documentReferences

Textile workers' households3

Nuclear families, of three or four people, are the norm in both countries. They are more common in Argentina (41.7 per cent vs. 38.1 per cent in Brazil). In Brazil, more extended households are more common. There are usually two wage earners. In Argentina, 35 per cent of the households in our sample had only one wage-earner, and only 15.8 per cent of the households in Brazil. In Argentina, 18.5 per cent of the households have women as sole providers, and only 9.7 per cent in Brazil. Labour conditions, employment stability and compensation for dismissal were better in Argentina at the time of our initial study in 1986. Argentina also had more stable and higher wages. This could partially explain why more Argentinian households have only one wage-earner.

Being the main breadwinner can make women workers much more vulnerable in the world of work. One woman interviewed in Argentina put it thus 'while I feel calmer without a husband to look after, I have only myself to rely upon, the children are still too small . . . so I must under any circumstances keep my job, but I can't take any extra time off to do the training required.... It is a vicious circle because I lose the possibility of promotion and wages do not make ends meet. I sometimes wonder if this is autonomy.'

In a quarter of the households in Argentina and Brazil - slightly more in Argentina - couples make decisions about the managing of income jointly. The proportion was higher for younger couples. Control over key economic decisions very much depended upon whether the female interviewee was an income provider. Sole providers, whether they be men or women, are usually the sole managers of the household budgets. 'Now that I bring in money to the family, at least, my husband does not control so much what I buy for the kids or for myself,' said a woman worker. Offspring seldom have any role in the management of the household budget, whether they are providers or not: this was especially marked in Brazil.

The burden of housework was carried mostly by the female textile workers in these households. Paid work and travel sometimes take ten to twelve hours per day. Part of Sunday is spent doing extra housework. A very high proportion of men, particularly Brazilian men, do not participate in household chores.

The tasks that men claimed to perform varied markedly between the two countries. Argentinian men are involved in some cooking, tidying the house, and washing dishes, but they also participate in shopping and childcare. Brazilian men look after the children only on odd occasions and they engage in a limited way in cooking and shopping. But this participation is sporadic and discontinuous. Sharing of housework among married couples is not very common. The greatest cooperation was found among younger couples, with and without children, in Argentina. But even here, there is not necessarily an equal level of participation. Cooperation between family members substantially reduces the burden of household chores on the individual woman. But this is only found among women belonging to the same household. For example, our study shows that, in Brazil, chores that could take an individual woman an average six hours daily, can take only four hours when performed collaboratively with other women.

Workers marry early in their life in both countries, women even earlier than men, when they are teenagers. Men tend to marry younger women and women to marry older men. In Argentina, these unions are quite stable, second marriages being infrequent. Women initiate a separation more frequently than men, especially in Argentina. When they do so, they tend to remain single. Qualitative information shows that, in Argentina, married women who work outside the household have more autonomy, but also face new household conflicts in relation to housework and childcare. A woman who had recently become separated presented it thus: 'Everything was OK till I became a worker, then I would come back at six or seven o'clock at night to find nothing had been done and the children were unfed and dirty. I would tell him to help, but he became violent. Several times he "aimed" at me. The thing he most hated was that his shirts were not ironed. Also, he resented my handing him money because it was mine. So he could not go drinking when he pleased.'

Workers in both countries tend to have some work experience before marrying, which shows their need to secure an income before marriage and also reflects the early age at which they start work. Women have less work experience at the time of marriage than men. In a few cases women had married without having any experience of paid employment, but there are no such cases among males, who are brought up to become income-providers.

More than half the workers in the samples had children. However, more men than women were parents: as the women textile workers explained, paid work leaves little time for child-bearing. There were an average of three children per interviewee in Brazil and two in Argentina, low figures for developing countries. Women workers prefer to wait longer than men, after marriage or forming a stable union, to have their first child. Industrial work has undoubtedly influenced this. In Argentina, women are less likely to have children after beginning work in the textile industry. They see their work both as limiting their reproductive role and widening their social field. In Brazil, a significant number of women are dismissed from industrial work owing to pregnancy, which significantly affects the continuity of their work records. In the households which we studied, the childcare was usually carried out by the women, whether or not they were also working. Childcare facilities provided by firms or by local groups were rare in both countries, although the law in Brazil requires medium-size and large firms to provide facilities.

Most workers had permanent accommodation. Brazilian workers tended to live with their families of origin after marriage, until they obtain government funds to buy their own house, a facility offered to local workers. This living arrangement means that they receive help from mothers or mothers-in-law for childcare. In Argentina, on the other hand, the norm is the nuclear family, and it is common for workers to move back to parents' or parents-in-law's houses only when the first child is born, in order to secure childcare facilities. They revert to the nuclear family when the older children, particularly daughters, are able to help with childcare.

Broadly speaking, the relation between events in the life-cycles of female textile workers in the two countries followed a similar pattern. The workers have a first job, they then enter textiles, they marry a few years before or after that time, they move from their parental home, they have their first child and, around that time, they begin to use contraceptive methods. But significant differences by gender and age could be found between countries.

Among Brazilian women the events followed each other very rapidly, occurring in their teens and the early years of their mature life. The time span between their entrance into textiles and marriage, as well as between marriage and motherhood, is shorter than that of Argentinian women. They also show a strong work continuity and, although their reproductive role interferes with their working lives, they manage to limit this interference more effectively than Argentinian women. This can be explained largely by their living arrangements, with older women taking care of their children, and their more critical approach to social attitudes towards gender. Discontinuity in an individual's work history is more common in Argentina, where gender stereotypes about marriage, birth control and, especially, childcare have a greater hold. They leave a longer time between marriage and childbearing, once they become industrial workers. This is not because they are more work-oriented, as management argues, but because they 'have a feeling' that, once married, part of their flexibility in handling their own lives will be lost.

Modernization in the textiles sector has had little direct effect on workers' behaviour as regards marriage, living with parents or in-laws, fertility and family planning. There was more information available on contraception, and the periodical checking of women for pregnancy was more common, in modernized firms and sections in Brazil. However, we could not identify any marked trend towards more reliable or continuous birth control practices among these women, nor any significant increase in their knowledge about contraceptive measures.