Division Of Labor

Cross section of an office building with people working late

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Division of labor refers to the range of tasks within a social system. This can vary from everyone doing the same thing to each person having a specialized role. It is theorized that humans have divided labor since as far back as our time as hunters and gatherers when tasks were divided based mainly on age and gender. The division of labor became an important part of society after the Agricultural Revolution when humans had a food surplus for the first time. When humans weren't spending all of their time acquiring the food they were allowed to specialize and perform other tasks. During the Industrial Revolution, labor that was once specialized was broken down for the assembly line. However, the assembly line itself can also be seen as a division of labor. 

Theories About Division of Labor 

Adam Smith, a Scottish social philosopher, and economist theorized that humans practicing division of labor allows humans to be more productive and excel faster. Emile Durkheim, a French scholar in the 1700's, theorized that specialization was a way for people to compete in larger societies.

Criticisms of Gendered Divisions of Labor

Historically, labor, whether inside the home or outside of it, was highly gendered. It was thought that tasks were meant for either men or women and that doing the work of the opposite gender went against nature. Women were thought to be more nurturing and therefore jobs that required caring for others, like nursing or teaching, were held by women. Men were seen as stronger and given more physically demanding jobs. This kind of labor divide was oppressive to both men and women in different ways. Men were assumed incapable of tasks like raising children and women had little economic freedom. While lower class women generally always had to have jobs the same as their husbands in order to survive, middle-class and upper-class women were not allowed to work outside the home. It wasn't until WWII that American women were encouraged to work outside the home. When the war ended, women didn't want to leave the workforce. Women liked being independent, many of them also enjoyed their jobs far more than household chores.

Unfortunately for those women who liked working more than chores, even now that it's normal for men and women in relationships to both work outside the home, the lion share of household chores is still performed by women. Men are still viewed by many to be a less capable parent. Men who are interested in jobs like preschool teachers are often viewed with suspicion because of how American society still genders labor. Whether it's women being expected to hold down a job and clean the house or men being seen as the less important parent, each is an example of how sexism in the division of labor hurts everyone. 

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Crossman, Ashley. "Division Of Labor." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/division-of-labor-definition-3026259. Crossman, Ashley. (2020, August 28). Division Of Labor. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/division-of-labor-definition-3026259 Crossman, Ashley. "Division Of Labor." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/division-of-labor-definition-3026259 (accessed June 9, 2023).