It's a Dirty Job but Someone's Gotta Do It

In college I took a Women's Studies class. I figured that since I was a woman, the class would be an easy A.

I ended up with a B minus.

My problem was that even though I thought I was a worldly woman at the ripe old age of nineteen, I had been in few circumstances that gave me perspective on the real issues women face in today's society.

For example, I had never lived with a partner with whom I was sexually involved. Therefore, when the teacher asked the class what we thought was the biggest issue in women's relationships with their partners, I guessed money. The teacher shook her head. Another student in the class--one who was married and had a small child--knew the answer.

"Chores," she said.

Earlier this month, the New York Times ran an article about women and their participation in the labor force. The article suggests that as women's participation in the work force has climbed, the time they have spent doing household chores has dropped. At least, that was true until 2003:

"Then the trend stalled. From 1995 to 2003, mothers, on average, spent about the same amount of time on household chores, but their work outside the home fell by almost four hours a week.

"Looking toward the future," said Francine D. Blau, a professor of economics at Cornell University, "one can question how much further increases in women's participation can be had without more reallocation of household work."

In response to the article and also to satisfy her own curiosity about who was doing the majority of the household chores in her house, Elizabeth from Half Changed World asked her husband (T) if he was up to the challenge of documenting all of their time spent doing household chores. He agreed. Here's what happened.

Day one - Thursday - March 16

"T reports that he spent 1 hour grocery shopping today, 1 hour cooking (we had chicken paprikash), and 2.75 hours doing housework (.5 hours cleaning the kitchen, .25 hours cleaning up after each of lunch and dinner, .25 hours running laundry, .75 hours sorting and putting it away, .5 hours picking up the dining room, and .25 hours picking up the library/family room).

I spent about 20 minutes cooking (mostly making challah for tomorrow, but also putting my breakfast and lunch together) and about 40 minutes cleaning -- 10 minutes cleaning the kitchen (scrubbing the stovetop and the microwave, which didn't rise to the top of T's list), 15 minutes putting away laundry, and 15 minutes picking up in the library. I also spent about 30 minutes trying to get caught up recording our finances..."

Day two - Friday - March 17

"...T reported spending 2.5 hours on housework -- 45 minutes cleaning the kitchen, 45 minutes on laundry, 30 minutes mopping the kitchen and bathroom (unfortunately we have light colored tile floors that look dirty 10 minutes after you finish cleaning them), and 30 minutes sorting the papers on his "launch pad" shelf. He also spent 45 minutes cooking.

I spent 30 minutes cooking (I started the chili cooking in the crockpot in the morning) and about 15 minutes doing laundry and miscellaneous picking up (taking out the recycling, cleaning up after the cat, bringing in dishes from around the house). I also spent 30 minutes cleaning up my desk and the area around it. (Is that housework? I don't really think so, but it's certainly comparable to T's cleaning his launch pad.)"

Day three - Saturday - March 18

"...T spent 1.25 hours cleaning -- half an hour in the kitchen, 45 minutes in the bedroom and family room, and about 15 minutes cooking.

I also spent about 15 minutes cooking (we had pancakes for breakfast, but went out for dinner), and about 15 minutes picking up and doing laundry."

Day four - Sunday - March 19

"...T spent 45 minutes cleaning -- 15 minutes in the kitchen, 30 minutes doing the bathroom, and about 15 cooking.

I spent about 15 minutes cleaning and doing laundry. We spent about 20 minutes together shopping, and about half an hour moving furniture around in the boys' room."

Day five - Monday - March 20

"...T spent 1.25 hours shopping (I think that includes driving to Costco and back), 3 hours cooking (he made a triple batch of curried chicken buns to freeze), and 2.25 hours cleaning.

I spent about 20 minutes cleaning."

Day six - Tuesday - March 21

"...T spent 15 minutes cooking, and an hour and 45 minutes cleaning.

I spent 30 minutes cooking, and about 20 minutes cleaning."

Without bothering to add up the numbers, we see that in Elizabeth and T's case, he spends more time than she does doing the chores of shopping, cleaning, and cooking. However, he also is the one who stays home with their children and she is the one who works outside the home, a point I find important.

Is it the case in other homes--even in homes where the primary wage earner is the female--that the male partner is doing more of the housework? Not according to Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, co-authors of Why Do I Love These People? and The Factbook, an organized online collection of research on family they compiled while writing their book.

In the section of The Factbook on Housework, they tackle the sticky question of who's doing it and what factors change who does it: Is it more money? Is it more education? Is it Women's Lib? Their research indicates that the more income a woman contributes to a household, the more housework she does.

Based on Bronson and Merryman's research:

  • The more money a wife makes, the more likely her husband is to report that he does at least half of the household labor. But the women do not agree to the same amount of husband-done housework: they think it's less.
  • In households where women contribute to less than or up to half of the family's income, the more money she makes, less housework she does.
  • In households where women contribute to more than half of the family's income, the more money she makes, more housework she does - by an increase of 5-6 hours each week.
  • The amount of income brought in by his wife or he does not effect the man's hours spent doing housework, so a woman's role in the workplace effects her hours, not his.

Household work. Who does it in your house? And if it's you (and you're a woman), do you feel--as the NY Times would lead us believe--that it's this "dust cloud ceiling" that's preventing you from participating more fully in the work force?

Mary Tsao | Mom Writes


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