This paper outlines findings from a qualitative project based on interviews with parents and children in ten families, and discusses their significance for the study of domestic labour. In interviews, participants’ initial answers explained that the way they do domestic labour is not about gender; it is about choice, efficiency, and differences in skills, and it’s all good. This account formed the ‘dominant story’ in most families. Some participants went on to express dissatisfaction with their domestic arrangements. Dissatisfaction was related to the actual performance of housework tasks, and to the work involved in taking responsibility for domestic labour, and organizing who will do what. In most families these ‘submerged’ stories were told by women. If the families I interviewed had been studied using fixedchoice questions, we would hear only the account that says domestic work is shared and everything is fine: what Hochschild (1989) called the ‘cover story’. My research demonstrates the importance of supplementing quantitative data with findings from qualitative studies. If this does not happen, government responses around work and family will be based on data that present an optimistic view of egalitarian domestic practice that does not reflect people’s experience of the families they live in.
This is a post-print version of a paper that appeared in the: (2006) Proceedings The Australasian Sociological Association (TASA), University of Western Australia & Murdoch University, 4-7 December 2006.