It is often said that the division of labour by sex is a universal characteristic of human societies. What kind of evidence is produced to support this statement?
George Murdock (1937) has surveyed the data for 224 societies (mostly preliterate) and shows that the tendency to segregate economic activities in one way or another according to sex is strong. Taking a list of forty-six different activities, he suggests that some are more often masculine than feminine, and vice versa. For example, lumbering is an exclusively masculine activity in 104 of his societies and exclusively feminine in six: cooking is exclusively feminine in 158 and exclusively masculine in five. Hunting, fishing, weapon-making, boatbuilding and mining tend to be masculine, while grinding grain and carrying water tend to be feminine. Activities that are less consistently allotted to one sex include preparing the soil, planting, tending and harvesting the crops, ‘burden bearing’ and body mutilation.