Housewife is a term used to describe a married woman with household responsibilities who is not employed outside the home. Merriam Webster describes a housewife as a married woman who is in charge of her household. Homemaker is a mainly American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

Gender-neutral language
Gender-neutral language, gender-inclusive language, inclusive language, or gender neutrality is linguistic prescriptivism that aims to eliminate reference to gender in terms that describe people...

 synonym for a housewife or a stay-at-home dad.

Housewife is also a term first used in the 18th century to refer to a sewing or mending kit where people usually kept toiletries. It is still used to describe a soldier's personal sewing kit, and for this item in British English is usually pronounced "huzif". It is now a developed term, which we use in modern day to describe the working class, stay-at-home wife.

Multicultural norms

In rural studies, the word "housewife" is occasionally used to refer to the person who does the majority of the chores within a farm's compound
Compound (enclosure)
Compound when applied to a human habitat refers to a cluster of buildings in an enclosure, having a shared or associated purpose, such as the houses of an extended family...

 as opposed to field and livestock work.


Being a diverse country, India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 has different approaches in different ethnic groups.

In a Hindu
Hindu refers to an identity associated with the philosophical, religious and cultural systems that are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. As used in the Constitution of India, the word "Hindu" is also attributed to all persons professing any Indian religion...

 family, the head of the family is the Griha Swami and his wife is the Griha Swamini. The Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 words Grihast and Grihasta perhaps come closest to describing the entire gamut of activities and roles undertaken by the householder or housewife. Grih is the Sanskrit root for house or home; Grihasta and Grihast are derivatives of this root, as is Grihastya. The couple lives in the state called Grihastashram or family system and together they nurture the family and help its members (both young and old) through the travails of life. They are a housewife team. The woman who increments the family tree and protects the procreated wealth of the family is described as the Grihalakshmi (the wealth of the house) and Grihashoba (the glory of the house). The elders of the family are known as Grihshreshta. The husband or wife may engage in countless other activities which may be social, religious, political or economic in nature for the ultimate welfare of the family and society. However, their unified status as a householder or housewife is the nucleus from within which they operate in society. This 'status', as housewives, anchors them in society and provides meaning to their activities within the social, religious, political and economic framework of their world. However, as India is modernising, lots of women are in employment, particularly in the larger cities such as Mumbai or Delhi, where most women will work.

In Muslim
A Muslim, also spelled Moslem, is an adherent of Islam, a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion based on the Quran, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God as revealed to prophet Muhammad. "Muslim" is the Arabic term for "submitter" .Muslims believe that God is one and incomparable...

 families, use of the term housewife (or its equivalent) is uncommon, even though housewives are very common and stay-at-home husbands are extremely rare. Muslim society sets different expectations for the husband and wife, but respects their individuality. Families are generally viewed as sets and not units.


In imperial China (excluding periods of the Tang dynasty
Tang Dynasty
The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire...

 when women had higher status in society), women were bound to homemaking by the doctrines of Confucianism
Confucianism is a Chinese ethical and philosophical system developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius . Confucianism originated as an "ethical-sociopolitical teaching" during the Spring and Autumn Period, but later developed metaphysical and cosmological elements in the Han...

 and cultural norms. Generally, girls did not attend school and, therefore, spent the day following their mothers and female relatives in household chores (for example, cooking
Cooking is the process of preparing food by use of heat. Cooking techniques and ingredients vary widely across the world, reflecting unique environmental, economic, and cultural traditions. Cooks themselves also vary widely in skill and training...

 and cleaning), which would assist them after their marriages. In most cases, the husband was alive and able to work, so the wife was almost always forbidden to take a job and mainly spent her days at home or doing other domestic tasks. As Confucianism spread across East Asia
East Asia
East Asia or Eastern Asia is a subregion of Asia that can be defined in either geographical or cultural terms...

, this social norm was also observed in Korea
Korea ) is an East Asian geographic region that is currently divided into two separate sovereign states — North Korea and South Korea. Located on the Korean Peninsula, Korea is bordered by the People's Republic of China to the northwest, Russia to the northeast, and is separated from Japan to the...

, Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 and Vietnam
Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam , officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea –...


After the founding of the Republic of China
Republic of China
The Republic of China , commonly known as Taiwan , is a unitary sovereign state located in East Asia. Originally based in mainland China, the Republic of China currently governs the island of Taiwan , which forms over 99% of its current territory, as well as Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu and other minor...

 in 1911, these norms were gradually loosened and many women were able to enter the workforce. Shortly thereafter, a growing number of females began to be permitted to attend schools; China's literacy rate rose to 85% for females in just a few years' time. Starting with the rule of the People's Republic of China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

 in 1949, all women were freed from compulsory family roles. During the Great Leap Forward
Great Leap Forward
The Great Leap Forward of the People's Republic of China was an economic and social campaign of the Communist Party of China , reflected in planning decisions from 1958 to 1961, which aimed to use China's vast population to rapidly transform the country from an agrarian economy into a modern...

 and Cultural Revolution
Cultural Revolution
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, commonly known as the Cultural Revolution , was a socio-political movement that took place in the People's Republic of China from 1966 through 1976...

, some women were required by the government to do heavy work that they were not physically suited for. This policy was later abolished.

In modern China, housewives are no longer as common, especially in the largest cities and other urban areas. Nearly all women work simply because one person's income is insufficient to support the family, a decision made easier by the fact that it is common for Chinese grandparents to watch after their grandchildren until they are old enough to go to school. Nonetheless, the number of Chinese housewives has been steadily rising in recent years as China's economy expands.

Formal education

In previous decades, there were a large number of mandatory courses for young women to learn the skills of housework. In high school, courses included sewing
Sewing is the craft of fastening or attaching objects using stitches made with a needle and thread. Sewing is one of the oldest of the textile arts, arising in the Paleolithic era...

, cooking
Cooking is the process of preparing food by use of heat. Cooking techniques and ingredients vary widely across the world, reflecting unique environmental, economic, and cultural traditions. Cooks themselves also vary widely in skill and training...

, nutrition
Nutrition is the provision, to cells and organisms, of the materials necessary to support life. Many common health problems can be prevented or alleviated with a healthy diet....

, home economics
Home Economics
Home economics is the profession and field of study that deals with the economics and management of the home and community...

, family and consumer science
Family and consumer science
Family and consumer sciences is an academic discipline that combines aspects of social and natural science. Family and consumer sciences deals with the relationship between individuals, families, and communities, and the environment in which they live...

 (also known as F.A.C.S) and food and cooking hygiene. More recently, these courses have been mostly abolished, and many people of both sexes in high school and college would be more likely to explore resources on the more academic topics of child development, child psychology and managing children's behaviour.

Modern mothers

Some contemporary women are leaving the paid workforce and concentrating full-time on child-rearing; particularly through their child(ren)'s early years (before entering kindergarten). There is considerable variability within the stay-at-home mother population with regard to their intent to return to the paid workforce. Some plan to work from their homes, some will do part-time work, some intend to return to part or full-time work when their children have reached school age, some may increase their skill sets by returning to higher education, and others may find it economically feasible to refrain from entering (or re-entering) the paid workforce.

Similarly, there is considerable variation in the stay-at-home mother's (SAHM) attitude towards domestic work not related to caring for children. Some may embrace a traditional role of housewife, cooking and cleaning in addition to caring for children. Others see their primary role as that of child-care providers, supporting their children's physical, intellectual, and emotional development while sharing or outsourcing other aspects of home care


Some feminists as well as certain non-feminist economist
An economist is a professional in the social science discipline of economics. The individual may also study, develop, and apply theories and concepts from economics and write about economic policy...

s (particularly proponents of historical materialism
Historical materialism
Historical materialism is a methodological approach to the study of society, economics, and history, first articulated by Karl Marx as "the materialist conception of history". Historical materialism looks for the causes of developments and changes in human society in the means by which humans...

) also point out that the monetary contribution of housewives' work to society is ignored in standard formulations of economic output, such as GDP or employment
Employment is a contract between two parties, one being the employer and the other being the employee. An employee may be defined as:- Employee :...

 figures. Housewives work many unrecorded hours a week, while depending on their husbands' employment to provide health insurance
Health insurance
Health insurance is insurance against the risk of incurring medical expenses among individuals. By estimating the overall risk of health care expenses among a targeted group, an insurer can develop a routine finance structure, such as a monthly premium or payroll tax, to ensure that money is...

 and household income.

See also

  • Gender roles in agriculture
    Gender roles in agriculture
    Gender roles in agriculture are a frequent subject of study by sociologists and farm economists. Historians also study them, as they are important in understanding the social structure of agrarian, and even industrial, societies.-United States:...

  • Good Wife's Guide
    Good wife's guide
    The "Good Wife's Guide" is a magazine article rumored to have been published in the May 13, 1955 issue of Housekeeping Monthly, describing how a good wife should act, containing material that reflects a very different role assignment from contemporary American society. The text and supposed scan of...

  • Home and family blog
  • Soccer mom
    Soccer mom
    The phrase soccer mom broadly refers to a middle-class suburban woman who spends a significant amount of her time transporting her school-age children to their sporting events or other activities. Indices of American magazines and newspapers show relatively little usage of the term until a 1995...

Further reading

  • Campbell, D'Ann. Women at War with America: Private Lives in a Patriotic Era (1984), on World War II
  • Draznin, Yaffa Claire. Victorian London's Middle-Class Housewife: What She Did All Day (2001) 227pp
  • McMillan, James F. Housewife or Harlot: The Place of Women in French Society, 1870-1940 (1981) 229pp
  • Ogden, Annegret S. The Great American Housewife: From Helpmate to Wage Earner, 1776-1986 (1987)
  • Palmer, Phyllis. Housewives and Domestic Servants in the United States, 1920-1945. (1990)
  • Ramey, Valerie A., “Time Spent in Home Production in the Twentieth-Century United States: New Estimates from Old Data,” Journal of Economic History, 69 (March 2009), 1–47.
  • Robertson, Una A. Illustrated History of the Housewife, 1650-1950 (1997) 218pp on Britain
  • Sim, Alison
    Alison Sim
    Alison Sim is a historian and writer, specialising on the Tudor period.She is the author of Pleasures & Pastimes in Tudor England, The Tudor Housewife, and Food & Feast in Tudor England. She lectures on Tudor food for the Mary Rose Trust and has worked at the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace....

    . Tudor Housewife, (1996), on 1480 to 1609
  • Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750 (1982)

External links

  • Home Economics Archive: Tradition, Research, History (HEARTH), An e-book collection of over 1,000 classic books on home economics spanning 1850 to 1950, created by Cornell University
    Cornell University
    Cornell University is an Ivy League university located in Ithaca, New York, United States. It is a private land-grant university, receiving annual funding from the State of New York for certain educational missions...

    's Mann Library.
The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.