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The Role and Activities of Malay Housewives and their Influence on Housing Design Preferences


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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 222 ( 2016 ) 720 – 728

Available online at www.sciencedirect.com

1877-0428 © 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of AMER (Association of Malaysian Environment-Behaviour Researchers) and cE-Bs (Centre for Environment- Behaviour Studies, Faculty of Architecture, Planning & Surveying, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2016.05.233


ASLI QoL2015, Annual Serial Landmark International Conferences on Quality of Life ASEAN-Turkey ASLI QoL2015

AicQoL2015Jakarta, Indonesia. AMER International Conference on Quality of Life The Akmani Hotel, Jakarta, Indonesia, 25-27 April 2015

“Quality of Life in the Built & Natural Environment 3"

The Role and Activities of Malay Housewives and their Influence

on Housing Design Preferences

Mayamin Yuhaniz


, Mahmud Mohd Jusan


Department of Architecture, Faculty of Built Environment, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) Skudai, 81310 Johor, Malaysia.


Previous studies suggest that home activities of housewives affect house design significantly. This paper aims at identifying roles and household activities of Malay housewives and their relationship with housing design preferences. A study was carried out on selected working and non-working Malay housewives of Bandar Tenggara, Johor, Malaysia, using a combination of close-ended and open-ended questionnaire survey. The results suggest that activities such as cooking and other day-to-day operations have some correlation with their sense of space. The results suggest that patterns of housewives’ home activities affect their housing design preferences.

© 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Peer-review under responsibility of AMER (Association of Malaysian Environment-Behaviour Researchers) and cE-Bs (Centre for Environment-Behaviour Studies, Faculty of Architecture, Planning & Surveying, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia.

Keywords: Home activities; house design; women preferences; working and non-working housewives


Previous studies on housing suggest that there exist gender-relation on various design aspects. However, research on this kind of relationship in the context of women as housewives are scarce. Housewives are regarded as home

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +0-000-000-0000 ; fax: +0-000-000-0000 .

E-mail address: mayaminyuhaniz@gmail.com

© 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of AMER (Association of Malaysian Environment-Behaviour Researchers) and cE-Bs (Centre for Environment- Behaviour Studies, Faculty of Architecture, Planning & Surveying, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia. Provided by Elsevier - Publisher Connector


managers regardless of their employment status. Therefore, studying routines of the housewives in their houses is vital to understand their contentment of house as a home. In other words, it is necessary to identify the behavioral, social, and psychological characteristics of its setting. It is because of the way these features may relate to the cognitions of the place (Smith, 1994b). Emmanuel (2013) agreed in his paper that improving the welfare and happiness of people is a process to achieve the quality of life. A study on household furniture preferences also mentioned on how retailers concern with furniture designs that suit consumers lifestyle (Soltani et al., 2012). Even from a developer point of view, the design is one of the important criteria for enhancing the price of housing products (Rahadi et al., 2012). Zavei & Jusan (2012) also suggest that there is an urgency to determine usable data on preferred attributes for scheming new housing units. The importance of quality design makes exploring housewives behavior and lifestyle at home, feasible and sustainable.

Moreover, the role of these housewives at home are central as they are caretakers of houses and families. Although women have equal rights in many parts of the world, the patriarchal system among Asian nations are still practiced (Bih & Chen, 2011). They look after the household, manage the early education of children and even their husbands' elderly parents such as in Japan (Lemu, 2007; Ronald & Hinokidani, 2011). Women and men have different choice of house design due to differences in house-routines and time spent in each room (Ahrentzen, Levine, & Michelson, 1989). There is a tendency that women identify their home environment to a greater extent than men (Ghomeshi & Jusan, 2012). Previous studies have indicated that home and women's experience can be an important subject for exploration (Roberts, 1991; Smith, 1994a). The more recent literature also maintains that style is a concern for house owners, particularly for women (Leslie, 2012; Omar et. al. 2012). It stresses the importance of studying women's influences in house design as they are the primary role player in defining housing style. Thus, these objectives are formulated for the matter:-

x To establish the importance of housewives’ voice in housing design;

x To determine roles of housewives as home manager and decision makers; and

x To explore housewives’ daily routine pattern that influence housing design preferences.

2.Literature review

It is hard to trace the influence of women in house design in Malaysia, even from the recent housing research. Some works on personalization (such as Jusan, 2010a; Rahim and Hashim, 2012) indicate house owner’s concerns with appropriate spaces for women, and men-women segregation among Malay house owners. Personalization in Malaysia is inevitable no matter how efficient is the architect’s design for individual’s needs (Bajunid et al., 2012). Alteration projects may affect house owners and their neighbors’ health and safety, particularly due to improper construction practices (Isnin et al., 2012). The remodeling works were carried out due to lack of space and inadequate rooms as well as to improve functional and psychological comfort (Omar et al., 2012). The main reason for such costly modifications undertaken by house owners is "culture" that has significant impacts on housing preferences. Jusan's (2010) works on housing personalization suggest that user-values (an expression of culture) determine users' decision in house remodeling. Religious belief has also been found to determine the spatial modification of the renovated houses, especially among Malay house owners. One can assume women have a significant role in such extensive modification works, although not specifically are covered in the research. For instance, Ghomeshi and Jusan (2012) discovered that design decision particularly the living room, dining room, and kitchen of the studied house remodeling in Tehran were made mostly by the housewives. It is an astonishing finding as Iranian communities are known for supporting patriarchal framework but choose a family decision-making in certain aspects of house design. In a wider context, studies on gender comparison discovered that women have a strong relationship with home activities, particularly in the kitchen and laundry areas (Amole, 2011). Women are also involved in these areas more than men even before reaching their marriage life (Ardener, 2000). Similarly in Taiwan, modifications of houses are claimed to design according to women’s taste by locating the kitchen at the center rather than at the corner of the chambers (Bih & Chen, 2011). These facts have motivated the authors to investigate women’s influence on Malaysian’s house design. Such study is necessary, as the home manager of the house are these housewives (Lemu, 2007). Additionally, for the state that the activity patterns and its tendency to influence house design are not rigorously studied in this country.


Another issue requiring particular attention is the employment status of Malay housewives. They have a significant effect towards the design of a house. Malay women of Peninsular Malaysia in the history, according to Abdullah (1984) were found as contributing significantly to the household, including parental and economic activities. They participated in almost every aspects of family physiological as well as economic needs. Malay women in some communities are also taking part in the public economy as they are in several marketplaces in Kelantan and Terengganu. However, the attitude of the community towards women’s place was that women were expected to contribute mostly to the household. Therefore, their role and location were centered within their homes and the villages. Attitude towards women’s role and their place in Malaysian Malay community, according to Abdullah (1984) had started to shift in the third quarter of the 20th century. It was the time when Malay communities sent their girls to schools and allowing the women to join professional services in an unprecedented number. Modern Malay women in the modern days involve in entrepreneurial and economic activities outside their houses more extensively compared to other Muslim countries in the world.

Involvement of Malay housewives in entrepreneurial and professional activities, at a micro level, is assumed to have an impact on their household routine and activities. It influences their expectation on the design of their houses. According to Ahrentzen et al. (1989) space utilization tends to be varied among women of different employment and marital status. Unemployed mothers tend to spend more time in rooms with their family members and are more involved in housekeeping and child-care activities in the room. Therefore, different time scheduling and daily routines of working and non-working housewives can be considered as having effects on space usage, hence design preferences


This article is a partial study of Malay housewives housing preferences, which is carried out in Taman Anggerik. The area is the only terraced residential area at Bandar Tenggara for the time the research was conducted. Bandar Tenggara is a small estate town in Johor, Malaysia, where 90% of the town are occupied by Malay residents (Department of Statistics Malaysia, 2010). The research uses a self-administered survey questionnaire consisting both close-ended and open-ended questions as the main instrumentation for collecting data. To this stage, 32 questionnaires had been collected to be used for the purpose of the article. According to Salkind (2003), the number of samples is appropriate. The samples were selected randomly through a random number generator. They were first introduced to the survey form by explaining the study acquires housing preferences from Malay wives and mothers. The structure of the questionnaire comprises three sections, namely, (i) profile; (ii) roles; and (iii) housing design preferences. In the profile section, there were questions asking for respondents' background and activities within their 24 hours of their daily routine. They were requested to write down their main activities on an hourly basis. Questions regarding their activities are considered as qualitative data as they are rich with information. Thus, results in this section are analyzed using content analysis and later investigated for any significant patterns.

The next section acquires information on respondents’ roles in their houses, such as the identification of who perform a listed tasks, their opinion on responsibility and their capacity in decision-making. These questions were asked using a grid system and 5 Likert scale. Lastly, the final section obtains information on their housing design preferences based on an imaginative scenario. Frequent suggestions by scholars studying environmental perceptions are important in achieving the quality of the environment (Wan Ismail, 2010). Thus, investigating housewives' perceptions towards their likings of an environment is necessary to attain sustainable developments. The respondents were requested to consider their answers as if they were buying a new two-storey terrace house by using the 5 Likert scale. One example of the question collected in the survey includes, “Would you pay more to have the living room bigger?” The questions list on a few more other "essential" spaces. The investigation focused on spatial settings of "essential" spaces because of the complexity of housing components and its design. Those spaces as suggested by Omar et.al. (2012), are the front porch, bedrooms, dining area, kitchen, and toilets. A possible future addition of special spaces for the house was also identified. Some examples of the special spaces are the guest room, children's study room, children's playroom, office and other complemental areas. A more in-depth study of the essential spaces is also investigated using open-ended questions. The open-ended questions encompassed some


examples of categories such as "size", "style", "color", "flooring", and others to ease the respondents to understand the questions.

Collecting both quantitative and qualitative data enables triangulation of the data and gives confirmation on which preferences have added meaning. It helps as housing design have a significant and varying choices and preferences.

4.Results and discussion

Thirty-two (32) respondents involved in this study are comprised of 17 full-time housewives and 15 part-time housewives. Part-time housewives are mothers and wives who are employed, or involved in studying or business making. However, due to the small numbers of the representative from both groups of housewives, comparative data between the two groups was not derived using quantitative method. Instead, qualitative data were analyzed and compared using the content analysis technique.

4.1.Housewives’ roles at home

Fig. 1. Percentage (%) of tasks perform at home

The result has reconfirmed that housewives remain the primary caretaker of the house as it was indicated by Abdullah (1984). The results show that all (100%) of the respondents (the housewives), regardless of their employment status, performed almost all of the housework at home, particularly performing laundry and tidying up rooms. Other tasks with high scores in the questionnaire survey are cooking (97%), cleaning up after a meal (94%), cleaning toilets (91%) and folding clothes (91%). It seems that what has been stated by Windset (c.f. Abdullah 1984 page 54) in 1958 remains true even in the modern Malaysia.

"A Malay woman does all the housework, cooks, sew and looks after the children. She also plants out rice and reaps it. She may be a weaver. She may work in the home garden, or she may angle. If there is alluvial mining near, she may wash for tin or gold, or she may tap rubber on her land or as a wage earner on an estate."

Windset (c.f. Abdullah 1984-pp) The results are also parallel to the more recent works (e.g., Bih and Chen, 2011; Lemu, 2007) that suggest women are the primary caretaker at home. In other words, in the modern days, “the house” is still the major place where their role as housewives is still central. This result, however, need to be rationalized within the geographical and sociological context of the studied community. The locality in this research is a new township that is populated by predominantly Malay communities with more inclination towards suburban lifestyle.

Another interesting finding that is parallel to what has been reported by Ghomeshi & Jusan (2012) is the participation of the husbands in home activities. The results indicate that the husbands are contributing highly, but only to gardening, which is equal with what the wives scored (59%). Children's contribution to housework was observed to have the same pattern (50% or lower). These results suggest that the housewives mostly manage


household activities within the interior spaces such as bedrooms and living rooms. Meanwhile, the husband takes care of outdoor works.

The research also identifies respondents' acknowledgments in being the home manager, as it is illustrated in Table 1. It showed that majority of the respondents agrees (87.6%) that they are the home manager, responsible for taking care of the house. It also showed almost all (96.8%) of them have an indication of having the instinct in being the home manager by stating being uncomfortable when their house is unorganized.

Table 1. Respondent’s agreement on roles at home Housewives’ roles Strongly

agree (%)

Agree (%)

Total agreement (%) Responsible for taking care of house 43.8 43.8 87.6 Uncomfortable in untidy house 56.2 40.6 96.8 Decision maker for housing type 9.38 46.9 56.3 Decision maker for house renovation 9.38 68.8 78.2

Desire to renovate 37.5 56.3 93.8

How are these findings implicating on design preferences of the housewives? Results on housewives’ roles and participation in house activities seemed parallel with another finding (Fig. 2) in the research. It showed all respondents (100%) considered their opinions as very important for the design of the living area, dining area, kitchen, as well as the front porch, master bedroom, and toilets. It strengthens the impression that the correct house design for the housewives is important to operate various household activities efficiently.

Fig. 2. Percentage (%) of agreement on the importance of respondents’ design opinions for each space

4.2.Are housewives decision makers at home?

There exist a paradox between housewives contributions at home being central and who decides the final decision in selecting a suitable house for the family. Despite being the main managers of the households, the results (Table 1) suggest that choosing the suitable type of house does not fall solely on the housewives. Only half (56%) of the respondents admitted they have a voice in the decision-making. The rest disagrees or have no decision on who should decide the suitable house for their family. It may be because buying a new house involves consideration of other aspects including finance, social relation, transportation and others, which require a significant contribution from the husband.

Surprisingly, the opposite goes for decision-making for house renovation (Table 1). As high as 78% of the respondents agrees they can decide on the renovation works for their houses. The results also show that 98% of the respondents have the desire to renovate their houses in the future. These findings suggest that design preferences from housewives are relevant and vital to inculcate their meanings of home into the physical structure of their houses. For instance, housewives opinions matter most at entertaining guests' areas (Figure 2) such as living and dining rooms. In addressing the design preferences of housewives, they are not limited to living and dining rooms


only. The kitchen area has also been used to entertain women guests particularly among Malay families (Jusan, 2010). However, the phenomena is a tradition among suburban women, and that the practice may not be the same with city housewives (Rahim and Hashim, 2012). This research also does not finalize the actual decision maker at home (particularly on design aspects). It is because the lack of data elicited from other family members. However, the housewives themselves are the main player at home in caring the family and managing the household. Therefore, their opinion is sufficient to adopt in house design, as they have a role in decision-making, particularly in entertaining guests' areas.

4.3.Housewives’ daily routine at home

The daily routine of housewives was elicited through open-ended questions to identify patterns of their activities at home that may influence their design preferences. Content analysis technique was used in analyzing for its opulent data. Answers were categorized and manually calculated in terms of its frequency of mention. The results are collected to allow comparison between full-time and part-time housewives. Table 2 show the results of housewives routine stated by the respondents. It indicates that full-time housewives tend to involve more in all households compared to part-time housewives, except doing errands and traveling. Although the results show the full-time housewives undertake more household works, it also indicates that part-time housewives are also committed to managing all household responsibilities, although to a lesser extent.

Table 2. Activities mentioned in housewives daily routine

Activity Total of mention Full-time housewives Part-time housewives Resting 277 158 119 Performing Prayer 81 52 29 Cooking 80 48 32 Doing errands/traveling 67 26 31 Eating 56 34 22 Watching television 56 42 14

Cleaning the house 56 31 25

The following sub-topics will discuss the activities with high scores:

4.3.1.Sleeping pattern

Resting behavior such as "sleep", "rest", "lying down" and "relaxing" are categorized in the resting activity that have a total of 277 mentions. However, "sleep" needs further elaboration to identify a significant pattern that might influence house design preferences. Results show that there is a normal distribution among respondents' duration of sleeping pattern, which ranges from 4 to 9 hours (with most respondents take 6-7 hours of sleep). Interestingly, respondents with the least sleeping hour are those who mentioned preferring larger master bedrooms, as illustrated in Table 3. This result suggests that housewives with less sleeping time require bigger bedrooms as a comfortable sleeping area for a better place to retire at night. It expresses the capacity of a space to play its role by influencing the occupant’s senses and behavior. This further support that behavior and space are mutually dependent (Ardener, 2000).

Table 3. Number of respondents based on their sleeping hours with preferred size of bedroom Sleeping hours Big sized bedroom Medium sized bedroom 4 - 5 hours 7 respondents 1 respondent 6 - 7 hours 4 respondents 4 respondents 8 - 9 hours 3 respondents 1 respondent


4.3.2.Pattern of performing prayer

Performing obligatory prayer is found to be among the most mentioned activity. A dedicated prayer area is also revealed to be the most preferred additional space that the respondents are willing to pay. It demonstrates how a particular religious teaching can influence house design. Providing a proper praying area to some extent is vital for the Malay homes. This finding is parallel with the general observation by previous research on religiosity and behavior of Malay communities in Malaysia (Ariffin et al., 2012). It is also evident from a study that one house owner at Klang Valley area renovated their dining space into a prayer room (Omar et al., 2012). Haghighi & Jusan (2012) agreed on how values determine a person’s evaluation in choosing a space. Values, according to Zinas & Jusan (2012) are life driver’s that causes the person to function all his actions. The values of the respondents showed an inclination towards religion because of their active ‘praying’ activity. This notion suggests that it is feasible for housing developers to consider adding a dedicated praying area at homes, particularly for the Malay buyers.

Fig. 3. Percentage (%) of respondents’ agreement to add special spaces

4.3.3.Cooking pattern

Fig. 4. Percentage (%) of respondents’ agreement to have bigger “essential” spaces

Respondents were quantified that mention words related to cooking. The phrases expressed by the respondents include, “preparing to cook”; “prepare breakfast”; “cooking for lunch” and “cooking”. Other phrases of cooking includes, “preparing tea”; “cooking for dinner”; and also “prepare husband’s packed lunch”. Frequency of mention for cooking activities was calculated to identify if there exist influences on housing design preferences specifically the kitchen. The previous Table 2 demonstrated that cooking is the third most mentioned activity after resting and performing prayer. Meanwhile in Figure 4, Kitchen is ranked as the most preferred (97%) space to be bigger. It suggests behavior (cooking) and space (kitchen) have a fairly positive correlation.

The frequency of mention for cooking by each respondent in a day had also been analyzed and compared with their agreement towards preferring a bigger kitchen (Figure 5). The figure shows that the more recurrent mentions for cooking, the greater the number of respondents with the higher agreement (strongly agree) towards having a bigger kitchen, particularly those who cook three times a day. Interestingly, a respondent that cooks only once a day is uncertain in needing a bigger kitchen. In other words, these findings suggest that the more frequent a housewife work in the kitchen, the bigger the kitchen she would need.


Fig. 5. Frequency of cooking activity mentioned in a day versus respondents wanting bigger kitchen

Another important finding highlighted is the attributes mentioned for the kitchen, particularly the ‘size' and ‘color'. A respondent stressed that she needed a suitable color scheme for her kitchen that can represent a ‘spacious kitchen'. There is no mention of other "essential" spaces beside the kitchen, in manipulating the size of the space using colors. Even the reasons for the respondents to prefer certain kitchen attributes are, "to create a comfortable environment for family events”, and also “efficiency in cooking and maintaining the kitchen.” Both of the responses seemed to indicate the need for a bigger and proper kitchen. Previous literature has also reported on the importance of kitchen to Malay women. The rear landscaped compound connected to the kitchen acts as an overflow space for kitchen activities (Huzeima, Hussain, & Ahmad, 2010). Female guests use the space during feasts or other social gatherings, besides washing and cooking.

The design of a space has considerable effects on the performances of the users (El-zeiny, 2013). In the context of an office environment, a study has found that female employee’s satisfaction with their workspace is more affected by the design of the spaces than male employees. This situation is as similar to the design of the kitchen affecting the performance of housewives in that space. Particular attention to the design of the kitchen should be given because empirically the space is important for the Malay housewives.


Understanding the roles and activities of housewives at home is vital for a house to be a sustainable living environment. Systematic understanding of women housing needs in the modern world is essential as working mothers are rapidly increasing in Malaysia and, their role as the main manager of their homes does not seem to change. This study shows that both groups of housewives (full-time and part-time) do have different time scheduling and routines at home, but their commitment to their home responsibility remains intact. This study confirms that roles and activities do correlate with housing preferences and support the importance of housewives’ voice in housing design. It proposed a more in-depth studies on housewives routine and housing preferences to be carried out in urban areas, as mothers at different setting might vary especially on lifestyle and status. A proper housing program needs to be established which allow housewives to involve in the making of their homes.


The authors wish to record appreciation to the Ministry of Education Malaysia, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) and Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) for their continuous support for this research.



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