Socio-historical paths of the male breadwinner model - an explanation of cross-national differences

Br J Sociol. 2004 Sep;55(3):377-99. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-4446.2004.00025.x.


It is often assumed that in the historical transformation to modern industrial society, the integration of women into the economy occurred everywhere as a three-phase process: in pre-modern societies, the extensive integration of women into societal production; then, their wide exclusion with the shift to industrial society; and finally, their re-integration into paid work during the further course of modernization. Results from the author's own international comparative study of the historical development of the family and the economic integration of women have shown that this was decidedly not the case even for western Europe. Hence the question arises: why is there such historical variation in the development and importance of the housewife model of the male breadwinner family? In the article, an explanation is presented. It is argued that the historical development of the urban bourgeoisie was especially significant for the historical destiny of this cultural model: the social and political strength of the urban bourgeoisie had central societal importance in the imposition of the housewife model of the male breadwinner family as the dominant family form in a given society. In this, it is necessary to distinguish between the imposition of the breadwinner marriage at the cultural level on the one hand, and at the level of social practice in the family on the other.

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Employment*
  • Female
  • Gender Identity*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Social Change*
  • Sociology