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head of household

Definition of Head of Household

(noun) The primary provider of income and food in the household but traditionally connoting a senior male in Western societies.

Examples of Head of Household

Head of Household Pronunciation

Pronunciation Usage Guide

Syllabification: head of house·hold

Audio Pronunciation

– American English
– British English

Phonetic Spelling

  • American English – /hEd uhv hOUs-hohld/
  • British English – /hEd UHv hOUs-hohld/

International Phonetic Alphabet

  • American English – /hɛd ʌv ˈhaʊsˌhoʊld/
  • British English – /hɛd ɒv ˈhaʊshəʊld/

Usage Notes

  • Plural: head of households
  • The increased awareness of blended families, single-parent households, egalitarian households, same-sex marriage, and culturally divergent kinship systems has decreased the sociological use of this term but not the institutional use for census taking and tax collection.
  • A woman-headed household (also called matrifocality or matrifocal family) is a household headed by a woman because of choice, desertion, divorce, economic separation from a partner, and widowhood. In contrast, a man-headed household (also called patrifocality or patrifocal family) occurs for similar reasons as woman-headed household, and a bifocal household (bifocality or bifocal family) is when both spouses are present and it is egalitarian.
  • The rise of woman-headed and bifocal households are challenging the traditional notion of male-headed households.
  • There has been an increase in women as heads of households in Western societies. Many of these households live in poverty and this has, in part, given rise to the feminization of poverty (Wagner 2014:155).

Related Quotations

  • “Rearranging the home might be part of rethinking how heterosexual couples relate. And the three-piece suite is one example of how everyday objects might reinforce ideas about men as the head of the household. Besides the sofa there might be a large ‘dad’s chair’ given prime position in the living room and a smaller ‘mum’s chair’ in the corner, reflecting traditional ideas about the proper role of women as self-sacrificing and devoted to making men comfortable. These are rather flippant examples among what were serious attempts to think critically about relationships between women and men as relationships of power” (Worrell 2001:66–67).
  • “When market economies took over from home-based production in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the father’s position as head of household and moral instructor of children was slowly transformed. Men were increasingly called upon to seek employment outside the home and their direct contact with family members declined. As the wage labor economy developed, men’s occupational achievement outside the household took on stronger moral overtones and men came to be seen as fulfilling their family and civic duty not by teaching and interacting with their children as before, but by supporting the family financially. The ideal of separate gender spheres developed—work for him and home for her. Middle-and upper-class women wore tight corsets symbolizing their incapacity and making it impossible to perform hard labor. As images of the ideal white, middle-class woman became more fragile, images of the ideal white, middle-class man shifted toward rugged individualism” (Scott 2004:270).

Additional Information

Related Terms


Coltrane, Scott. 2004. “family.” Pp. 269–72 in Men and Masculinities: A Social, Cultural, and Historical Encyclopedia, edited by M. Kimmel and A. Aronson. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Wagner, Geraldine. 2014. “The Poor & the Working Poor.” Pp. 171–183 in Defining Class: Sociology Reference Guide, edited by Salem Press. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press.

Worell, Judith, ed. 2001. Encyclopedia of Women and Gender: Sex Similarities and Differences and the Impact of Society on Gender. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Works Consulted

Holmes, Mary. 2009. Gender and Everyday Life. London: Routledge.

Kuper, Adam, and Jessica Kuper, eds. 1996. The Social Science Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.

Ritzer, George, ed. 2007. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Ritzer, George, and J. Michael Ryan, eds. 2011. The Concise Encyclopedia of Sociology. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Schaefer, Richard T. 2013. Sociology: A Brief Introduction. 10th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Scott, Jacquelyn Thayer, Judith Treas, and Martin Richards, eds. 2007. The Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Families. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Cite the Definition of Head of Household

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2014. “head of household.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved June 23, 2024 (https://sociologydictionary.org/head-of-household/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

head of household. (2014). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/head-of-household/

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2014. “head of household.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed June 23, 2024. https://sociologydictionary.org/head-of-household/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“head of household.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2014. Web. 23 Jun. 2024. <https://sociologydictionary.org/head-of-household/>.