Ann Markusen “City Spatial Structure, Women’s Household Work, and National Urban Policy”

Two forms of labor, wage labor production and household reproduction of labor power are very similar but each greatly impact the spatial organization as well as the organization of division of labor for those filling these roles. Markusen argues that household reproduction of labor, the work that’s done within the home, greatly influences residency and work location decisions for families and mothers. She argues that gender, specifically the power held by men in a patriarchal society, helps to shape and order urban and suburban environments, as opposed to the environment shaping gender relations. Markusen states that patriarchy has “profoundly shaped American urban spatial structure” and “promotes the single-family suburban housing”.

Illustrative image of professional woman feeding her baby while using laptop

Wage labor production is formally recognized in a capitalistic society. This type of labor is done by workers that are hired by businesses to produce something that can be sold for profit. The employees earn a wage and the employers earn a profit. This type of work influences how the environment space is used including transportation for employees, available workforce, and available space for production. Social reproduction of labor involves activities within households that produce “both current and future generations of labor power”. I think I’m understanding this to mean that the household unit is basically expected to produce future workers. If so, then women become the primary producer of all wage labor workers, not just a “passive consumption unit”. I would go so far as to say the sole producer, a monopoly in the market so to speak. However,  these employees do not earn a wage and these self employed producers do not earn a profit.

The informal marriage contract hides the efforts put forth in the household reproduction of labor power and therefore prevents it from being considered a production job. I appreciated the comparison the author made between women in the household purchasing groceries and preparing a meal and the employee in the foodservice sector doing the same thing but getting paid a salary as well as the employer getting a return on their investment. Also, I had never thought about how washing machines dishwashers and other electronics make household work more efficient. This increased efficiency with machines is no different than implementing more efficient techniques in the private manufacturing sector.

markusen 3Women who work in the home contribute to the maintenance of society by providing for their family and maintaining a household etc. However, being that is not a formal job, no formal pay or formal recognition is received. This relationship is unjust in that the household reproduction of the workforce has greater impacts for females than for males as it primarily women who take care of the household and children, and many of them have formal jobs outside of the home as well. This spatial division of urban and suburban areas corresponds with the division of labor within the two areas. The division of labor within the household is not equal, women typically do more of the household and child rearing work than men. The only one well served by this arrangement are males.

In addition to receiving no recognition for the informal labor that occurs in the household, households are also excluded from considerations in the urban environment through the separation of the work sphere and the home sphere. Urban space is organized around the wage labor worker who are predominantly males while the suburban space is organized around household reproducers who are predominantly females. The impact that the work sphere has on the homes here and vice versa goes unrecognizable for the most part as patriarchs are not negatively affected by the arrangement. The spatial disparities between locations of jobs outside the home and locations of houses create problems for mostly mothers as they have to work in both places every day which is inefficient.

Women may choose to move to the suburbs for the safer, cleaner environments, access to quality schools, shops and services, but they are forced to compromise and choose household reproduction of labor over wage labor production. Because of the spatial separation of the two places, access to local jobs is diminished and labor time is wasted in commuting. While limited accessibility to jobs is argued to be the major reason why women stay in the household, other factors such as low wages for women and no advancement opportunities deters females from entering the wage labor force. All of these factors reinforce the power and security males hold in the workforce, it also reinforces their role as breadwinners and controllers of the household, perpetuating the patriarchal society.

Markusen and other theorists argue the that the urban spaces are being reshaped by namely three significant demographic changes in the US; 1) gentrification; 2)  retired persons moving to non-urban settings;  and 3) the fast growing small town non-urban areas. Although these trends are inflicting changes in the spatial design of urban areas the patriarchal structuring of households in the urban space appears to be permanent. Social structures that prevent women from joining and progressing in the wage labor market, including unequal pay, accessibility to work locations, limited advancement opportunities, need to be addressed. Additionally the notion that women are primary caregivers and primary household maintainers should be revisited.

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