Here’s another way to think about it: To balance the load, women should stop cleaning 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 would need to work to catch up with men’s earning power. I suggest we adopt Equal Domestic Work Day every August to recognize the extra work women do in the home.
The housework gap affects millions of Americans. More than half of American households are made up of dating partners; the vast majority (98%) are opposite-sex couples. For women in the key career years of 25 to 34, most (59%) live with a spouse or partner.
The gender gap in household chores persists, regardless of the couple’s other commitments. Among dual-career couples, women do more housework, even when they earn more money than their partners. Among retirees, women do more housework. Among unemployed men and women of working age, men spend most of their waking hours watching television. Women spend it on housework.
It’s not like men don’t have time to cook or clean. The average man has about 40 minutes more leisure time per day than the average woman. Among married parents who both work full time – where rest time is tight and the gap between household chores narrows to about 30 minutes – husbands take in even more leisure time than their wives: 44 minutes of more every day.
The result is that in almost all coupled households, women do more and have less time to recuperate. Women consistently report higher rates not only of burnout, but also of stress, depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Lack of household chores is surely not the only reason, but that can’t help.
A March survey, conducted by advertising agency Berlin Cameron and author Eve Rodsky, asked respondents what one thing their spouse or partner could do to reduce their stress levels. The most common response from women: “Help more around the house.” Yet when men were asked what their wives could do to reduce their stress levels, their most common response was “Nothing, I’m happy with the way things are.”
I don’t think these men say “I’m glad my wife is so exhausted”. But they may not be fully aware of the stress their partners are feeling and their own passive role in feeding it. Indeed, several studies suggest that men systematically overestimate their own contributions within the household. This unconsciousness is a problem that Equal Housework Day could help solve.
One of the challenges is that men’s activities tend to be less frequent and more reportable: yard work, home repairs, car maintenance. It is women who disproportionately end up with the daily grind of 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 that their unpaid work is so rigid. The gutters can wait; dinner can’t.
Women pay a heavy economic penalty for being so helpful: A college-educated woman in her twenties, Mangino points out, earns about 90 percent of what her male peers earn. By the time she is in her 40s, that drops to 55%. Looking at comparative data across countries, the more men do housework, the more women there are in leadership positions in government and business. Gender inequalities at home are inextricably linked to those at work, and Covid has widened the gap in both places.
To fill the vacuum of household chores, men don’t need to spend more time mowing the lawn; they need to start doing some of the tasks that their female partners do every morning and every evening. This could be awkward, especially at first; our cultural associations about who does what are so strong that we often mistakenly think it’s better for tasks like cleaning. A wife may forbid her husband from entering the laundry room, as he tells her not to touch 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 their own households reproduce gendered societal dynamics, as research by Allison Daminger, professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has shown. It would be too painful. Instead, we find ways to rationalize the disparity in chores, making excuses like “She’s a perfectionist” and “He’s laid back.” That’s not really true – as Daminger points out, some men who claim to be unsophisticated hold jobs as project managers or surgeons.
And one of the consequences of seeing the domestic work deficit as the result of individual whims and choices is that any attempt to solve it risks becoming an interpersonal argument. These can be expensive for women – literally. Beth Livingston, a management professor at the University of Iowa, has found that if wives negotiate too aggressively with their husbands about which career should take priority, it can lead to the husband denying his wife emotional support. and advance his wife’s career. second. (When husbands negotiate aggressively, they don’t experience this reaction from their wives.)
Equal Housework Day would help by admitting that the housework divide is actually a bigger cultural issue than any couple. And just as we can’t expect the gender pay gap to disappear by getting women to “bargain better” with their bosses, it shouldn’t be up to individual wives to solve the domestic work gap. by “negotiating better” with their husbands.
But solving it wouldn’t take much time: men have 40 minutes more free time per day than women; women do 47 minutes more of housework than men. Men could only do 23 minutes more of household chores each day and almost fill the household chores gap.
The alternative is for women to exercise the nuclear option: leave the house messy and the fridge empty by 2023.
More from Bloomberg Opinion:
How to choose an ideal husband or wife (for your career): Sarah Green Carmichael
Want more babies? Caring for Mothers First: Clara Ferreira Marques
Poor single mothers need money, not husbands: Kathryn Edwards
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Sarah Green Carmichael is editor-in-chief of Bloomberg Opinion. Previously, she was Ideas and Commentary Editor at Barron’s and Managing Editor of Harvard Business Review, where she hosted “HBR IdeaCast.”
More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com/opinion