Couples and housework

The ironing lady

This just in: men are selfish layabouts


THEY are regarded as chores by both sexes, but fall disproportionately on only one. The latest survey of time use in America suggests women still shoulder most of the housework, spending on average an hour a day scrubbing, hoovering and shopping, compared with barely 20 minutes for the unfairer sex.

Standard explanations for this division of labour rest on the pay gap between the sexes. A recent report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a think-tank, shows women still earn about 20% less than men—close to the rich-country average—in America. Couples can maximise earnings if the lower-paid (usually female) partner does the unpaid work at home. But in a new paper* Leslie Stratton of Virginia Commonwealth University asks whether different attitudes to housework also play a role in divvying up the dusting.

Mr Stratton draws on data from the 2000-01 Time Use Survey in Britain, which shows how people spent their day and which tasks they enjoyed. Attitudes certainly differed: women disliked laundry less than men. Ironing was generally dreaded; weirdly large numbers of both sexes liked shopping for food.

Ms Stratton found some evidence for the pay-gap hypothesis. Women with higher wages did a little less work at home. A woman who earned 10% more than average ducked out of two minutes’ housework per weekday. Her partner heroically made up this time at the weekend. But his wages made no difference to the extent of his efforts around the house.

The major determinant of how much housework a man did was how much he disliked it. Men who liked housework a lot (sic) spent around 60% more time per weekday on it than those who were indifferent to it, sparing their partners up to ten minutes of drudgery. Women’s preferences seemed to have no effect on the time they spent on chores.

One way to reduce the burden for both is to get help, although again the rewards are unevenly spread. In areas where hired help was 10% cheaper than average, he got away with 43% (9.6 minutes a day) less housework at weekends, and she did 17% (14.2 minutes) less. Almost all the extra housework generated by children was taken on by the woman. Each sprog under five added 20 minutes to her weekday housework time, but just a couple of minutes to his. As children get older the weekday burden falls, but weekend time rises—and still comes mainly from her.

There is truth in the idea that chores go to the lower-paid partner. But cause and effect are unclear. Do women do more because of lower pay, or might their careers suffer from a disproportionate burden at home? Evidence that only men’s preferences seem to matter suggests the second explanation should not be swept under the carpet.

article from : Couples and housework: The ironing lady | The Economist.


About CoffeeWithKath

Passionate about Technology in Education and how it can make a difference in the lives of students with Dyslexia. Founder of @ForDyslexia. Mom of twins. Juggling entrepreneurship and kids.


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