Sarah Green Carmichael: Women Shouldn’t Do More Housework This Year | Columnists



Sarah Green Carmichael


Women spend an average of 47 minutes more on housework than men each day, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That equates to about 5½ hours each week, and that’s not including childcare, grocery shopping or errands, which the BLS classifies in other categories, and which women also do far more of.

Here’s another way to think about it: To offset the strain, women had to stop doing housework on August 29 for the rest of the year.

So maybe they should. We already have Equal Pay Day every spring to draw attention to the extra months women have to work to catch up to men’s earnings. I suggest we adopt Equal Housework Day every August to emphasize the extra labor women provide at home.

The housework gap affects millions of Americans. More than half of American households consist of romantic partners; the vast majority (98%) are opposite-sex couples. For women in the prime career years of 25 to 34, most (59%) live with a spouse or partner.

The gender difference in housework persists regardless of a couple’s other obligations. Among dual-career couples, women do more housework—even when they earn more money than their partners. Among pensioners, women do more housework. Among non-employed men and women of prime working age, men spend the majority of their waking hours watching television. Women use it for housework.

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It’s not like men don’t have time to cook or clean. The average man has about 40 minutes more daily free time than the average woman. Among married parents who both work full time—where time to rest is scarce and the household gap shrinks to about 30 minutes—husbands take even more time off than their wives: 44 minutes more each day.

The result is that women in almost all couple households do more and have less time to recover. Women consistently report higher rates not only of burnout, but also of stress, depression, anxiety, and insomnia. The housework gap is certainly not the only reason, but it can’t help.

A March survey, led by advertising agency Berlin Cameron and author Eve Rodsky, asked respondents what their spouse or partner could do to lower their stress levels. The most common response from women: “Help more around the house.” But when men were asked what one thing their wives could do to lower their stress levels, their most common response was, “Nothing, I’m happy with the way things are.”

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I don’t think these men are saying “I’m glad my wife is so burnt out.” But they may not be fully aware of the stress their partners feel and their own, passive role in fueling it. In fact, several studies suggest that men consistently overestimate their own household contributions. That forgetting is a problem that Equal Housework Day could help solve.

One challenge is that the activities men do tend to be less frequent and more postponable: gardening, home repairs, car maintenance. It is women who disproportionately end up with everyday cooking, cleaning and laundry. As consultant Kate Mangino points out in her new book, “Equal Partners,” one of the reasons women prioritize flexibility at work — and often accept lower wages as a result — is because their unpaid work is so inflexible. The gutters can wait; dinner can’t.

Women pay a steep financial penalty for being so helpful: A college-educated woman in her 20s, Mangino points out, earns about 90% of what her male peers earn. By the time she’s in her 40s, that drops to 55%. Looking at comparative data across countries, the more housework men do, the more women there are in leadership roles in government and business. Gender inequalities in the home are inextricably linked to those in the workplace, and Covid has widened the gap in both places.

To close the housework, men no need to spend more time mowing the lawn. The have to start doing some of the tasks their female partners do every morning and every night. It can be awkward, especially at first. Our cultural associations about who does what are so strong that we often mistakenly believe that “she’s better at” tasks like cleaning. A wife can forbid her husband from entering the laundry room, just as he tells her to keep her hands off the cordless drill. But at best, female skills are simply the result of years of doing a task over and over again.

Most people don’t think of their own households as a reflection of sexist societal dynamics, research by Allison Daminger, a sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has shown. That would be too painful. Instead, we find ways to rationalize the inequality in housework by making excuses like “She’s a perfectionist” and “He’s easygoing.” This is not true—as Daminger points out, some men who claim not to be detail-oriented have jobs as project managers or surgeons.

And one result of seeing housework as the result of individual quirks and choices is that any attempt to resolve it risks becoming an interpersonal argument. They can be expensive for women—literally. Beth Livingston, a management professor at the University of Iowa, has found that if women negotiate too aggressively with their husbands about whose career should take priority, it can result in the husband withholding his emotional support from his wife and his wife’s career is coming. second. (When husbands negotiate aggressively, they do not experience this backlash from their wives.)

Equal Housework Day would help by admitting that the housework divide is actually a cultural problem bigger than a couple. And just as we can’t expect the gender pay gap to disappear by getting women to “negotiate better” with their bosses, it shouldn’t be up to the individual wife to solve the gap in housework by “negotiating better” with their husbands .

But solving it wouldn’t take much: men have 40 more minutes a day for free time than women do. Women do 47 minutes more housework than men. Men could do just 23 more minutes of housework each day, almost eliminating housework.

The alternative is for women to take advantage of the nuclear option: leave the house messy and the fridge empty from now until 2023.

Carmichael is a Bloomberg opinion editor: @skgreen and bloomberg.com.

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