This Mother's Day we've got some good news and some bad news on the domestic gender equality front.
Good news first: the discrepancy between the amount of time men and women spend on housework has been shrinking steadily since the 1960s. In 1965, according to Liana Sayer of the University of Maryland, the average American woman spent over four hours a day on housework while the average man spent just over 30 minutes (!).
But, "women's daily housework dropped by one hour and 45 minutes between 1965 and 2012, falling from four hours a day to less than two-and-a half hours a day," Sayer writes. Over the same period, the amount of time men spend on housework tripled. That increase in men's work came primarily from increased time spent doing "core" household chores, like cooking, cleaning and laundry. Way to step up, guys!
Conversely, women's housework time fell primarily because more women joined the labor force over that same period: more time at work means less time on chores at home.
As Sayer says, "that's the glass half-full story." You could also look at it like this: women still did about 1.7 times as much housework as men in 2012. In other words, the average man would need to increase his housework output by 70 percent to be as productive on chores as the average woman. This is a far cry from 1965 when women did 6.8 times as much work as men, but clearly there's still room for improvement.
Now, this isn't entirely because men are oppressive brutish beasts wishing to perpetuate domestic inequality. Sayer points to this finding: even when there's nobody around to pick up after them, men still don't spend a lot of time on housework. "In 2012 single women with no children reported doing almost twice as much cooking, cleaning, and laundry as single men with no children," she writes. In other words, men are simply more slovenly than women, and less averse to filth.
Another wrinkle in this narrative comes from Jill Yavorsky, Claire Kamp Dush and Sarah J. Schoppe-Sullivan at Ohio State University. In a paper released Thursday, they observe that the birth of a child radically alters the housework dynamic within married couples: "Gender disparities in the work of the family, including paid and unpaid work, were magnified across the transition to parenthood for the primarily highly educated dual-earner couples we studied . . . The women in these families experienced a large increase of 3 hours a day in their total work (not including child engagement) across the transition to parenthood, whereas men increased their total work by about 40 minutes a day."
Adding it all up -- both paid work and unpaid housework, including childcare -- the average man's work week was three hours longer than his partner's before birth, but after parenthood he worked 8.5 hours less than his partner. This is particularly interesting, given that this is a socio-economic cohort -- wealthy and educated -- that generally says equality of household labor is important in a relationship.
As the researchers note, inequalities of labor that develop in the months after a child's birth may have a tendency to linger long afterward, as husbands and wives get settled in their changed roles. So couples devoted to the ideal of domestic equality may want to address these inequalities before they become entrenched in a relationship.