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New survey confirms men do fair share of household work

By Glenn J. Sacks
web posted April 15, 2002

Men are doing at least as much household work as women, according to a new survey conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR), the world's largest academic survey and research organization.

The recently released study shows that women do an average of 27 hours of housework a week, compared to 16 hours a week for men. Balanced against this, however, is the study's less-publicized finding that the average man spends 14 hours a week more on the job than the average woman. Thus men's overall contribution to the household is actually slightly higher than women's.

In fact, studies conducted by the ISR and others have found that rough equality between the workloads shouldered by men and women has existed for at least four decades. Gender issues author Warren Farrell says that these findings belie the misconception that our era is that of "the second shift woman and the shiftless man."

Mr. Mom turned out to be more accurate than people thought
Mr. Mom turned out to be more accurate than people thought

As Farrell notes, negative references to men and housework litter our popular culture. "The Myth of Male Housework: For Women, Toil Looms From Sun to Sun" wrote one major publication, over a cartoon depicting a woman juggling (and struggling) with a baby, a roasted turkey, and a house pet, while her husband watches TV and "juggles" his beer and his potato chips. Other major publications have highlighted women's burdens under headlines such as "For Women, Having It All May Mean Doing It All," and "The Trouble with Men," with one even commenting, "A woman's work is never done, a man is drunk from sun to sun."

According to Farrell, the idea of the "second shift woman and the shiftless man" was brought into vogue in part by UC Berkeley professor Arlie Hochschild's best-selling 1989 book The Second Shift. In it she wrote (and much of the media uncritically repeated) that "women work an extra month of 24 hour days each year." But Hochschild's research and conclusions were deeply flawed. For the most part she compared the housework burdens of full-time employed males with those of part-time employed females, portraying men working 50 hour weeks as lazy and selfish for not doing as much housework as their wives who were working a 20 hour week.

Hochschild also claimed that men did no more housework in the late 1980s than in the pre-feminist era, but, with one minor exception, she used data on male housework from studies done in the pre-feminist era, rendering it worthless. In addition, the book also defined "housework" to include chores usually done by women, ignoring most of the household tasks generally done by men.

The "second shift" myth also stems from the idea that today both husband and wife work what is presumed to be a 40 hour week, but when both go home at five, the woman does housework and the man does little. Gloria Steinem, in fact, says that in today's economy men have one job, but women have two. In reality, while some couples' economic lives conform to the 40-40 model, the average full-time employed man works eight hours a week more than the full-time employed woman, women are four times as likely as men to work part-time, and women are much more likely than men to be full-time homemakers. Housework burdens naturally reflect this.

Feminists correctly note that, as a general rule, both men and women list housework as one of their least enjoyable tasks and, since women do more housework than men, this shifts the advantage to men. However, while people may not enjoy cooking or folding the laundry in and of themselves, they are usually much happier at home and in casual dress (and perhaps talking on the phone or watching TV while they work), than they are in a supervised and regimented work environment. Also, while housework may seem like drudgery compared to middle-class white collar jobs, it doesn't when compared to blue collar or "pink collar" work.

In addition, both the ISR survey and The Second Shift count only hours worked, without noting the special contributions of men who do dangerous and physically demanding work. Of the 25 most dangerous jobs listed by the US Department of Labor, men comprise at least 90 per cent of the labor force in all of them. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, nearly 50 American workers are injured every minute of the 40-hour work week, and every day 17 die--16 of them male.

Despite the withering criticism men have endured, it is clear that men are doing their fair share in the home, and have been since before the feminist era.

Glenn Sacks writes about gender issues from the male perspective. His columns have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Houston Chronicle, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Los Angeles Daily News, the Salt Lake City Tribune, the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, and the Washington Times. He invites readers to visit his website at www.GlennJSacks.com.

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