A Note on the Division of Labor by Sex1


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    I am grateful to the Radcliffe Institute for its generous support of my research, and to Beatrice Whiting, Bonnie Gray, and Patricia Harpending for many stimulating discussions on the subject of women's work.


Although sex division of labor is a universal, the contribution that women make to subsistence varies markedly from society to society. It is suggested here that the degree to which women participate in subsistence activities depends upon the compatibility of the latter with simultaneous child-care responsibilities. Women are most likely to make a substantial contribution when subsistence activities have the following characteristics: the participant is not obliged to be far from home; the tasks are relatively monotonous and do not require rapt concentration; and the work is not dangerous, can be performed in spite of interruptions, and is easily resumed once interrupted.