Ok, let say Mary married to Bill & she does not go to work. She decided to be a housewife.

Now, her husband died or divorced her. Then, should she say "I am a housewife" when someone asks her "what are you doing?".

Or should she say "I am a homemaker"?

  • Housewife is fine.*Wife* in housewife doesn't designate marital status; it is a survival of the word's oldest sense = "woman". – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 22 '15 at 17:13
  • If she doesn't have a husband, would she even be able to not work? She has to get income somehow... – Catija Aug 22 '15 at 17:13
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    @StoneyB That may be true, but I can understand the confusion... if an unmarried woman said that she is a "housewife", I'd be a bit confused and I'm a native speaker. – Catija Aug 22 '15 at 17:15
  • @Catija Perhaps they were wealthy, and the estate supports her; or the couple prudently took out life insurance; or she is living on her husband's pension. – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 22 '15 at 17:16
  • @StoneyB None of those would apply to a divorcee. – Catija Aug 22 '15 at 17:36

No doubt, housewife is used especially for a married woman who does her household work instead of going out to earn her daily bread. But the word has a wider meaning. She's not necessarily a married woman; she could be a widow or a divorsee.

As for housemaker, you cannot use it instead of housewife.

However, if you don't like to use the word housewife for a widow or divorcee, you can use the word homemaker that's = housewife.

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  • Apparently OP removed mention of "housemaker"? – Brian Hitchcock Aug 23 '15 at 11:39

These days, in AmE, "housewife" is disfavored as sexist language. "Homemaker" is a non-sexist term for someone who takes care of their own home, whether young or old, married or single, male or female. (In some couples, of course, the wife is the breadwinner, and the stay-at-home husband the caregiver. In such cases he might be jocularly referred to as a "househusband".)

But among the older generation, the traditional term "housewife" hangs on. So if a married woman has spent decades thinking of herself as a" housewife", far be it from me to deprive her of that title when she is left alone.

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Housewife is used for and by a married woman (also known as a wife). A widow could use it, if she still considered herself as married or faithful to her late husband.

She could also say: I am a homemaker, or

I work at home.

It would be strange for a divorced woman to use the word. In today's English, the presence of wife in housewife refers to a married woman.

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