Technology, Institutions and allocation of time in Swedish Households, 1920-1990

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The modernisation of Swedish households during the twentieth century prompted a considerable productivity growth in household production. This paper examines the association between this process and the allocation of female time in Swedish urban households during the period 1920-1990. Estimates presented in the paper suggest a minimum potential time reduction for a fixed volume of routine household work of about 25 per cent until the mid-1950s and 35 per cent until 1990. Much of that time was gradually transferred to the labour market, but no evidence can be found for an increase in leisure time. What has been termed a “Cowan paradox” appears in the Swedish data: the output of household services increased significantly with productivity-enhancing technical change. This was, however, the case only in households where small children constituted an impediment to labour market entry. Increased returns to market work induced women who did not face this restriction to allocate more time to the labour market from the mid-1940s, and at the same time raised the social status of paid work. This period also saw a drive to professionalize and rationalise routine household work, which may be interpreted as an attempt to increase the status of homemaking in order to match the economic and social upgrading of market work. It proved a vain effort. Its social base eventually vanished as a set of new formal and informal institutions associated with the family redefined the concept of “small children” and so removed the remaining barriers to gainful employment. The ultimate effect was to shift the position of homemaker from being a more or less permanent status of some women to a clearly temporary position of most women.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Economic History


  • Family policy, Household technologies, Time allocation, Labour supply
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-46
JournalÉconomie et Societé
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Publication categoryResearch