Sociobiology and Culture:
Sexual Division of Labour

Biogrammar and Sexual Difference
Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox

Deep level genetically conditioned sexual division of labour.

Their view is interchangable with sociobiology and draws a parallel with Chomsky's use of a pre-set deep grammar that facilitates learning language. This biogrammar determines the sexual division of labour.
Biogrammar can be altered culturally over time, and is not an instinct. Settled agricultural and urban humankind has only lived for a handful of thousands of years, and then in a limited number of places for much of the time. Technological humankind protects itself from Darwinian survival of the fittest and filtering out the weakest genes, taking advantage of the best mutations. Hundreds of thousands of years have been spent as hunter gatherers, and in different human species, with periods of intensive environments and therefore genetic change. For Tiger and Fox this genetic programming accounts for men being aggressive and dominating and women being caring (that follows on from giving birth).
This is principally sexual, and from he core of this sexual difference is the outcome of men as leaders in so called primitive and developed societies.
In terms of family, the mother and child are the basic unit. They are designed to be together. The child needs this bond. Anyone else can be a provider - man, woman, kinship groups.
Imposing gender similarity goes against the grain of biogrammar. Men are born to lead and women to care. Modern life has not affected this basic tendency even if it goes against this basic tendency.

Practical Sexual Division of Labour
George Peter Murdock

Bigger men specialise in the heavier physical tasks

Men are larger build than women biologically; therefore in a kind of terms of trade specialisation and practically men do the heavier tasks. Using 224 societies, Murdock claims universality for this basic division, where males do the hunting, lumbering and mining, whereas women do the gathering of wild vegetables, carrying water, cooking and altering clothing. She is at home more.

Functional Differentiation with a Biological Background
Talcott Parsons

Socialisation needs an instrumental male and an expressive female to make the family function well.

The mother focusses on the child bearing and early socialisation of the child, and is expressive. The father specialises in being the instrumental provider that involves competition and stress. She also gives him expressive support, and keeps adult personality stable and provides him with an important function. These expressive and instrumental tendencies are complementary.

Mental Health of the Child
John Bowlby

Biologically a young Child must bond with its mother: any other relationship is flexible and added on.

For the young child to be stable mentally he or she needs to bond with the mother. Deviance is not genetic or inherited, but the mother and child bond is genetic and lost at its peril.
The most psychologically disturbed juvenile delinquents were isolated from their mothers at an early age.  Orphanages had led many on to being disturbed. These delinquents developed a psychopathic personality (meaning they had no care for the consequences of their destructive actions or who they affected). Infants need the "warm, intimate and continuous" relationship with the mother in order to be normal and to care themselves.

Sexual Division of Labour is Cultural
Ann Oakley

The mother role is a cultural construction and not universal.

She argues that George Peter Murdock sees the world through male and Western eyes. There are fourteen societies in his own study where women predominate or are exclusive in lumbering. Only women clear the land in 36 of his societies. Men share cooking in 38 societies.
In addition the Mbuti Pygmies have men and women hunting together. They also share parenting.
In Tasmania, Aboriginal women hunt for seals, fish and catch oppopsum mammals.
On in eight workers on building sites in India are women. Women are also founding mining in Latin America and Asian countries, sometimes up to twenty five per cent.
She wrote that communist countries and Israel have women in their armed forces; women's military roles have been extended to Western countries.
John Bowlby can be contradicted using a primitive society. Alorese women are back in the fields two weeks after giving birth and a member of the family (can be the father, grandparent or sibling) raises the child without harm. In Western society women can work without harm to the child - they may even benefit from having mothers who work as the time they have with the child is more enjoyable and productive.
Talcott Parsons is simply showing his own bias, and the expressive wife is only for the benefit of men and oppression of women and is unnecessary for the functioning of the family.


Bowlby, J. (1946), Forty-four Juvenile Thieves, London: Tindall and Cox.

Haralambos, M., Holborn, M. (1995), Sociology: Themes and Perspectives, London: Collins Educational, 586-589.

Murdock, G. P. (1949), Social Structure, New York: Macmillan.

Oakley, A. (1974), Housewife, London: Allen Lane.

Oakley, A. (1974), The Sociology of Housework, Oxford: Martin Robertson.

Oakley, A. (1981), Subject Women, Oxford: Martin Robertson.

Oakley, A. (1982), 'Conventional Families' in Rapaport, R. N., Fogarty, M. P., Rapaport, R. (eds.) (1982), Families in Britain, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Parsons, T. (1959), 'The Social Structure of the Family' in Ashen, R. (ed.) (1959), The Family: Its Functions and Destiny, New York: Harper and Row.

Tiger, L., Fox, R. (1972), The Imperial Animal, London: Secker and Warburg.


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful