Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (55.39 MB)

Her Work, His Work and Theirs: the Household Economy and the Family in New Zealand, 1900-1925

Download (55.39 MB)
posted on 2021-11-09, 22:11 authored by Toynbee, Claire

This thesis is primarily concerned with integrating some of the theoretical and empirical themes beginning to emerge around the academic and feminist literature on work, household and family. It examines some of the complex interacting variables influencing the form and content of different forms of work, both paid and unpaid, directed at achieving the means of subsistence in family households in New Zealand in the first couple of decades of this century. Oral histories provide the primary source of evidence. The thesis is also concerned with the gross and subtle variations in household divisions of labour based on hierarchies of age and sex, and with the ways in which new forms of domestic ideology became adopted or rejected by families in different social groups around this time. It will be argued that these ideologies were associated with the privatisation of the family in New Zealand, and with the formation of local status groups. New Zealand during the early decades of the twentieth century is a particularly fruitful location for such research because of the wide variety of family types to be found in a society with a low level of structural complexity, minimal class structuration, a rather poorly developed economic infrastructure, but nevertheless modernising rapidly. Local economic and social conditions favoured the retention of patriarchal domination and subsumption of wives and children in farming families whose household economy was preindustrial in character. At the same time, local urban conditions favoured the emergence of smaller families, isolated domesticity, protected childhood and a new form of male domination, masculinism. The trend towards a new family form was probably stimulated by the dearth of paid work for married women in New Zealand and the relatively high wages earned by their husbands. Furthermore, a general shortage of domestic servants favoured a narrower gap between the conditions of work of urban bourgeois and proletarian women than that found in other Western societies. A socialist-feminist framework was found useful in respect of explaining differences in the gender-based division of labour, and in identifying the forms of male domination and control observed in different kinds of households. However, it was rather limited when trying to analyse the demands and social controls experienced as a result of competition and reciprocal obligations with other women in closeknit neighbourhoods, or as a result of kinship relationships. It was also necessary to extend or modify the framework to account for variations in the power/desire of women to control their children's time and energy, explaining which children should be involved in household or farm or earning extra money, or accounting for strategies used by husbands and parents to handle and control potential conflict of interests. These limitations may eventually be overcome as new research leads to clearer conceptualization and theory building.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies


Pollock, Nancy; Robb, Jim