Tag Archives: household work

How is Work Load Distributed between Husbands and Wives?

“Happy Life; Happy Marriage” Series

The feeling of an unfair distribution of chores in the home causes too many unhappy marriages to count. The August issue of Time Magazine shares some interesting new research on the issue of work distribution. Taking an honest look at the data might just change your perceptions.

The article was written by a wife and working mother who believed she herself was carrying too much of the burden of childcare and chores at home.  Her conviction that she was carrying a heavier load was only validated by her female friends and by books she read. She admits her perception “virtually guaranteed” that she would be be “pissed off” when her husband got home from work each day after she had bathed and fed the kids. Not exactly the setup for the ideal happy home life.

You can imagine her surprise when she found large new studies that show hubbies aren’t the slackers many of us think they are. Before you jump in and say, “You don’t know my husband,” read the full article called “Chore Wars,” or at least continue reading my summary here.

The headline on the cover: “Let it go. Make peace. Men and women, it turns out, work the same amount.”

 I know, I know. My husband doesn’t dust or clean toilets either. But the study counted up the hours men and women work on the job (paid work) and the hours they work in the home (food prep/cleanup, housework, and child care). Instead of lamenting why men don’t chip in more at home, researchers set out to determine just how men and women allocated their time instead of assuming men were just jerks. By isolating only who does more housework, researchers had been neglecting to remember that families needed to earn money as well. They found men were increasingly spending more hours at work.

The time analysis concluded that men and women with full-time jobs have almost equal total workloads, with or without kids under age 18. The largest discrepancy is when the kids are under 6, moms put in an average of five more hours a week than dads.  The longer a wife stays employed, the more her husband is likely to pitch in at home, says the research. In addition, the older the children get, the less child care time is required, and the more free time goes up for moms.

Stay-at-home mothers benefited even more than working moms, as husbands have increased the amount of time on active parenting as a result of cultural shifts.

Men have tripled the amount of domestic help since 1965, while having few role models from their own fathers on how to be an active father and a domestic helper while still bringing home the bacon. (Let this be a lesson that we all need to teach our sons how to be good future husbands!)

Ironically, the couples who split paid and unpaid work the most evenly were often parents who are blue collar workers and have no flexibility in work hours. Couples who were more flexible tended to have men who put more hours in at work and women who reduced their hours and picked up more slack at home.

Before I let the men off the hook, I think the easiest way to make a wife feel better about the marriage is to help out more in the home. It’s also likely to lead to a healthier sex life, as your wife won’t be carrying around so much resentment. So, if you can do more at home, or if you’re not pulling your weight, you won’t get my sympathy. If you’re not sure what to do, just ask.

But I have to agree that after evaluating the data, many wives may just have to cut some slack to their hardworking men. We also have to realize there are other solutions to housework, such as delegating some chores to children, hiring help (for lawn care, cleaning or child care), and not having unrealistically high expectations. We also need to ask for specific help rather than complain that “no one helps out.” Also, remember the post about dividing the jobs according to who is most efficient and most enjoys (or tolerates) them.

In the next post, I’ll provide a key solution for busy moms and wives who feel they are just not getting the opportunity to relax and recharge.  Monday, I’ll address the unique pressures that researchers say married fathers are facing in today’s climate. I’d like to hear if you agree or not.

For now, I think the message to us all is that bickering about who does what isn’t helping us build marital unity, and we all know it. So, I have to agree with Time that we need to “let it go” and “make peace.”

Related Link:
Splitting Chores 50-50 with Spouse is Recipe for Disaster

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com by Andrey Kiselev

Splitting Chores 50-50 with Spouse is Recipe for Disaster

I used to have married neighbors who carefully listed all their chores and divided them as equally as possible, fifty/fifty split, even though one worked full time and the other was a stay-at-home parent. Each frequently felt they were doing more than their share, and they frequently revised those lists. Perhaps this contributed to their later divorce. There is a better way.

The authors of the book Spousonomics say “there are great rewards to be had from trading smartly and great wastes of time and energy from trying to do everything yourself, or even from splitting things in half.” Think of your marriage as a business comprising two trading partners who exchange services, for example the completion of chores, they suggest.

Co-authors Jenny Anderson and Paula Szuchman recommend using the theory of Comparative Advantage, which says it’s not efficient for you to take on every single task you’re good at, only those tasks you’re relatively better at compared with other tasks. If you think of a well-run corporation, each person within the business has a specialty. The organization works more efficiently when everyone does what they are best at, even if they are capable of doing other things.

Couples who force the fifty/fifty division of chores, without regard to what each person is best at and enjoys most, lack specialties. They also tend to argue more about who is doing what and whose turn it is to take on a certain job. Life becomes about deciding what is “fair”. Other couples miscalculate their comparative advantages, perhaps insisting that the husband always walks the dog and mows the lawn when the wife is better suited to these jobs and enjoys them more.

Modern marriage has changed roles so dramatically that every task is debatable—who will do the laundry, care for the children, pay the bills, and wash the dishes. A 2007 Pew Research Center study asked couples “What makes marriage work?” The answers were 1) faithfulness 2) sex and 3) sharing household chores.  Two years later, the Boston Consulting Group asked what couples argue most about. This time money was number one, followed by household chores. Clearly, these seemingly unimportant decisions about chores can become important issues in the marriage.

The authors provided a number of case studies to play out the problems and solutions. They used economic lessons about how countries make products they are most suited to produce and then trade then rather than each country attempting to produce all their own products. They do that based on what they are best and fastest at making, at the lowest cost.

For couples deciding how to divide the work load, determine who is best and fastest at various tasks, taking into consideration what they enjoy doing most. For example, if the woman is better and faster at tidying the house and doing the dishes, those should be her jobs. If he is better and faster at doing the laundry and mowing the yard, those should be his jobs. The couple together can save significant amounts of time by assigning the person who does the task most efficiently. This is time that would be forever lost if they focused instead on what was “most fair”. Instead, they can use this time for fun and leisure.

Long ago, I determined I was best at doing the laundry and keeping the house tidy. My husband is much better at mowing the lawn, maintaining the home and the cars. We both do the cooking. It seems we determined our comparative advantage without realizing we were doing it.

Do you and your spouse argue about doing the dishes, cooking, cleaning or laundry? Is it time to do a serious analysis of your comparative advantages? How do you divide household chores?