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Outside of American English, what gender neutral terms are there for "housewife"? There aren't any children involved, so "stay at home parent" isn't applicable.

For example (when addressing an opposite-sex couple who don't have any children) "Is one of you a [requested term]"?

I first considered "house spouse", as "spouse" is a hypernym for husbands and wives, but ngrams indicates that it's much rarer than "househusband" or "house husband", which in turn is much rarer than "housewife".

I've come across homemaker, but it seems to be more American English than British English.

Domestic engineer is well known as an example of a politically correct inflated job title, but is fairly rare (rarer than househusband), and I suspect mostly talked about, or used ironically, rather than used seriously.

Related question, currently closed: "Housewife" vs. "homemaker"

  • It isn't exactly what you're looking for, but homesteader might apply in some situations. It implies a lot more than homemaker -- homesteaders are usually into sustainability and would like have things like a garden, chickens, and a woodstove, for instance and would be more likely to craft everyday items rather than buy them at a store. – Kit Z. Fox Apr 29 '16 at 13:50

13 Answers 13

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I don't know about British English, but a gender-neutral expression is stay-at-home spouse/partner.

"But if you have one breadwinner and a stay-at-home spouse, you will probably pay less in taxes."

http://www.cnbc.com/2015/06/26/same-sex-marriage-ruling-levels-financial-playing-field.html

  • 1
    This is the best after stay at home mom or dad. This implies that a person made an active choice to play a critical and demanding role in the household. If you can't use a gender specific term, then this is by far the best option. The other options have a "lazy" connotation to them, that gives the impression of "too lazy to get a job", while the truth is that stay at home spouse, is far from a "too lazy" choice. For the record I feel that "stay at home" is a full time job and more in it's self, and that the term should reflect that. – coteyr Apr 26 '16 at 15:42
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    With the wide range of relationship configurations practiced today, perhaps we'll soon see "stay-at-home partner" and "stay-at-home significant other" as more inclusive alternatives, though they don't exactly roll off the tongue. – eipi10 Apr 26 '16 at 22:35
  • @eipi10 Love your suggestions. – Cathy Gartaganis Apr 27 '16 at 7:44
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As a native British English speaker, I would go with 'homemaker'. It seems like a really 'positive' term.

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    I agree, 'homemaker' sounds much more positive than 'stay-at-home', which I've heard used pejoratively on occasion. – Will Apr 26 '16 at 14:21
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    +1 As an American English speaker, this is far more common in usage. And it generally seems preferred over housewife when referring to stay-at-home women as well. – UnhandledExcepSean Apr 26 '16 at 16:22
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    I've never encountered 'homemaker' used pejoratively and that's what I put in my tax returns where they ask for 'occupation' – Michael J. Apr 26 '16 at 17:17
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    @MichaelJ.: I've seen it pejoratively, but usually in an unintended, subtle way. My wife (who is the stay-at-home homemaker of our home) get's frustrated when people put the word "just" in front of the title, asking her, "Do you work? Or are you just a homemaker?" It's not an intentional thing--usually entirely subconscious--but it really annoys her (rightly so). She usually wants to respond, "Yes, I'm a homemaker, and YES I WORK." – loneboat Apr 26 '16 at 22:25
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    Do they really spend 40 hours a week as a homemaker or do they do other things most of the time? Yes, homemaker seems appropriate but it might not be accurate. – user34660 Apr 27 '16 at 3:34
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I'm a fan of neologism when the necessity strikes, and while "housekeeper" is plausible, it smacks of someone hired for the task, while houseperson just sounds stale. I propose "housespouse."

It already exists in Urban Dictionary, so it's not strictly speaking a neologism on my part, but it's new enough it's not easily found in searches.

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    I believe "housespouse" is the thing I'm proposing we accept (in the broader sense, not in the sense of, "OP, approve my answer"). – Derrell Durrett Apr 26 '16 at 15:41
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    I refuse to say that word just because it sounds ridiculous for rhyming with itself. – Grault Apr 26 '16 at 21:04
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    a housekeeper is a servant or employee. If someone said they were a housekeeper I'd assume it meant they went to someone else's house to "keep" it, not their own house. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Apr 27 '16 at 12:53
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    @Grault I refuse NOT to say that word simply because it rhymes with itself :p – Alexis Andersen Apr 27 '16 at 14:45
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    ‘Houseperson’ doesn’t just sound stale to me—it sounds like something entirely different. I might describe someone as a house person (note the space) even if they have a full-time job: someone who prefers to stay in, rather than go out. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 27 '16 at 20:12
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Household 6

In the military, the common naming convention for radio callsigns designates the commander of a particular unit with the number 6. For example, the commander of a Company nicknamed "Rock" would have the callsign "Rock 6".

It is not unusual to hear members of certain branches of the military refer to their spouse as "Household 6" or sometimes "Kitchen 6".

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    Neat, now I understand what, "Where's the six?" means. – Mazura Apr 29 '16 at 2:47
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    I have a friend in the Navy who designated his wife CINCLANTHOME (Commander-in-Chief, US Atlantic Forces, Home). – Kit Z. Fox Apr 29 '16 at 13:44
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I have often heard the terms "bread winner" and "caretaker" used together to describe the roles of members of a couple.

1

If both adults in a same-sex relationship are physically and mentally fit, and under 65 years old, I would simply ask each one:

What do you do?

I would never dream of approaching either one with the proposed question

Is one of you a [requested term]?

Why should I presume that one "works" outside the home while the other works inside the home?
If, instead, one of them were to reply homemaker, (which as a term I rather like) or unpaid domestic worker, despite not having any children, I'd be tempted to think that it was an euphemism for "unemployed". However, a lot depends on the tone of voice, and facial expression. For example, with tongue firmly in cheek, I might say the latter or "I am a domestic goddess" which Cambridge Dictionaries define as a woman who is very good at ​cooking and ​keeping her ​house ​clean and ​organized; a more modern and gender-neutral equivalent could be a domestic deity


Added

Language-wise, the following question:

Do you look after the home?

is probably the safest and most gender-neutral one could ask a person of either sex in a long term relationship. Likewise, a person could describe their role as taking care of the house, without being boxed in by a job title.

  • To the downvoter(s) both "unpaid domestic worker" and "unemployed" are genderless terms. It is; however, a fact that the former is intrinsically entwined with the female sex, even though the term "worker" is genderless, and the person who looks after the home for free is "unpaid". – Mari-Lou A Apr 27 '16 at 8:30
  • And what would you do for an opposite-sex couple? – Andrew Grimm Apr 27 '16 at 20:43
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Houseperson:

  • a person who manages a household, a housewife or househusband, a person who is employed to carry out housekeeping duties.

(The Free Dictionary)

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    Although this SEEMS like a good translation from the context of "housewife," really this is only going to be confusing in conversation. Guy walks up to a dad: "Hey there. What do you do?" "I'm a houseperson." "Oh, so like a contractor? You build houses?" "No, no, a houseperson!" "So... a realtor?" "No. ... like a housewife? Houseperson" "Aaaah..." (TIL It's impossible to make conversation paragraph breaks in comments...) – Digital Chris Apr 26 '16 at 15:55
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    This really sounds like an employee to me, from the neuterization of houseboy / housemaid, in a similar way as -person has been used with other professions. Housespouse is much clearer, and homemaker is more established. – Level River St Apr 27 '16 at 19:19
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This is a phrase, not a single word, but I've heard "Chief cook and (baby) bottle washer" used in an offhand way in a sitcom many years ago. Of course, this doesn't apply very well in a situation where baby bottles aren't being used because the children are grown or there are no children at all. Also, if the family relies on take-out food - as many families seem to do these days - there may not be a lot of cooking taking place either ;-)

0

I am fond of using the expression "Breadwinner" as the person who works to support the family by providing income, and "Breadmaker" as the person who works to support the family by taking care of family and household duties.

  • To my mind breadwinner is juxtaposed to householder ... – iain Apr 29 '16 at 11:51
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I've heard domestic engineer used.

It is exactly what was requested, a gender neutral term for the spouse responsible for housekeeping.

Although the phrase is best known as satire of a corporate tendency to pompous titles for mundane jobs, there is cultural shift toward recognition of the amount of work entailed and the broad range of skills involved.

The traditional perception of housekeeping as low-status is a direct consequence of the fact that the role is unpaid. When a man does the same job for pay in a great house, he is titled major domo. In a hotel this role is maître d'hôtel or hotel manager.

In a money obsessed culture like the United States of America, the lack of pay robs the role of all social status. Using domestic engineer without irony has two desirable consequences:

  1. It assigns status to a role that deserves more status.
  2. It spells out society's expectations of people in that role.

People frequently change the meaning of words by usage. In this case all that might change is the inflection.

For those odd people who cannot entertain an idea unless it is reported second or third hand, here's a reference. George Bernard Shaw used the phrase in chapter six of An Unsocial Socialist.

Smilash had now adopted a profession. In the last days of autumn he had whitewashed the chalet, painted the doors, windows, and veranda, repaired the roof and interior, and improved the place so much that the landlord had warned him that the rent would be raised at the expiration of his twelvemonth's tenancy, remarking that a tenant could not reasonably expect to have a pretty, rain-tight dwelling-house for the same money as a hardly habitable ruin. Smilash had immediately promised to dilapidate it to its former state at the end of the year. He had put up a board at the gate with an inscription copied from some printed cards which he presented to persons who happened to converse with him.

JEFFERSON SMILASH

PAINTER, DECORATOR, GLAZIER, PLUMBER & GARDENER. Pianofortes tuned. Domestic engineering in all its Branches. Families waited upon at table or otherwise.

CHAMOUNIX VILLA, LYVERN. (N.B. Advice Gratis. No Reasonable offer refused.)

The business thus announced, comprehensive as it was, did not flourish. When asked by the curious for testimony to his competence and respectability, he recklessly referred them to Fairholme, to Josephs, and in particular to Miss Wilson, who, he said, had known him from his earliest childhood. Fairholme, glad of an opportunity to show that he was no mealy mouthed parson, declared, when applied to, that Smilash was the greatest rogue in the country. Josephs, partly from benevolence, and partly from a vague fear that Smilash might at any moment take an action against him for defamation of character, said he had no doubt that he was a very cheap workman, and that it would be a charity to give him some little job to encourage him. Miss Wilson confirmed Fairholme's account; and the church organist, who had tuned all the pianofortes in the neighborhood once a year for nearly a quarter of a century, denounced the newcomer as Jack of all trades and master of none. Hereupon the radicals of Lyvern, a small and disreputable party, began to assert that there was no harm in the man, and that the parsons and Miss Wilson, who lived in a fine house and did nothing but take in the daughters of rich swells as boarders, might employ their leisure better than in taking the bread out of a poor work man's mouth. But as none of this faction needed the services of a domestic engineer, he was none the richer for their support, and the only patron he obtained was a housemaid who was leaving her situation at a country house in the vicinity, and wanted her box repaired, the lid having fallen off.

Emphasis is mine. Interestingly, Shaw applies the term without irony to a man.

If you want something more understated, the term you want is householder. This word is very specific in meaning, implying both ownership and responsibility for operational maintenance.

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    Were they being ironic when they used it? – Andrew Grimm Apr 27 '16 at 11:49
  • Ironic about the political correctness aspect, serious about the recognition of how much skill and effort goes into keeping a house clean and tidy in the presence of children. – Peter Wone Apr 27 '16 at 14:39
  • This question as flagged as low-quality, likely because it provides no explanation of why, or when, or how to use domestic engineer. Please present evidence that this term is in use with references or examples. – choster Apr 27 '16 at 16:24
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    Since you can't tell the difference between a question and an answer, and because how, why and where a nominative clause is used is so fundamental to the language that you wouldn't be able to read an explanation of them unless you already knew, and because contextual how, why and where to use this specific phrase is predefined by the question, I hereby flag you, @choster, as an idiot. – Peter Wone Apr 27 '16 at 23:17
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    Within this question, Mari-Lou A's answer contains the elements of a good answer: an explanation of the term and links demonstrating evidence of usage. – choster Apr 27 '16 at 23:29
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Householder, is to my mind a good generic term; Applicable most adequately to all gender; That the modern mind should denigrate this role to a negative, serves well to highlight the Buddhist/Hindu translation of this steadfast term.

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Personally, I like the top two answers, but to the extent that “homemaker” might still have some lingering gender connotations for the dwindling number of us who remember the doll Suzy Homemaker, and to the extent that the “stay” in “stay-at-home spouse” might imply to some that a lot of “staying” as opposed to “working” is being done, I’d propose “Work-at-home spouse”:

The work-at-home spouse has often put his or her career on hold, sometimes for decades, in order to help put the breadwinner spouse through school, doing all of the household chores, raising and taking care of the kids, and generally managing the household so that the breadwinner spouse can focus on one thing – doing their job at work.

(from ‘Work and Economic Conditions Often Facing Divorcing Spouses’ on Dr.Kenneth J. Manges’ website)

(Please note that I’m NOT proposing “Work-from-home spouse”, which would not imply as strongly as “work-at-home” that any housework/domestic engineering is being done at the home [example usage of “work-from-home spouse” found in the title of a recent ‘Bloom in Words too’ entry]. Please note also that since the word we’ve been asked to replace [housewife] includes “wife” and therefore implies a marriage, I don’t think the use of “spouse,” with its own implication of marriage, would be inappropriate in any of the answers given so far that include it.)

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Unemployed

A person who is of economic age and not caring for children full-time is generally considered to be unemployed.

If you're past working age or don't need the income, then I'd call you retired.

For example, my colleague's spouse does not work despite being of working age and not having any children, so I consider her simply to be unemployed.

protected by tchrist Apr 27 '16 at 13:13

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