Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 2, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

HOUSEWORK....The BBC reports today that men are slobs and women are neatniks. You can see the quantitative results on the right, and Jessica Valenti and Matt Yglesias have the usual comments to make.

But I was curious about why the total hours of housework goes up so dramatically for couples (two people shouldn't require twice the hours of housework as one person, should they?). Was this due to the presence of children or did they control for that? So I went looking for the paper itself, and eventually found an earlier version of the research here. Unfortunately, it was so crammed with formidable looking equations that I quickly gave up.

However, if you scroll down to Table 2, you'll find something that makes the basic results a little more understandable: men in couples do less housework than women, but they also do way more work outside the house (44 hours vs. 31 hours on average). Women's work outside the home declines when they become part of a couple, and my guess is that men's work outside the home increases (though, oddly, Table 2 doesn't actually provide this data directly). The total amount of leisure time reported within couples is 128 for women vs. 124 for men. The guys aren't quite so lazy after all!

Now, the author warns us to be careful with this data, since time spent with children is sometimes coded as housework and sometimes coded as leisure, and it's not always clear which is which. And overall, there's not much question that men rarely do their fair share of housework: I'll bet that if the author controlled for hours worked outside the home, men would still report fewer hours of housework than women. Still, if you're going to report this stuff, shouldn't you report the full picture?

UPDATE: Scott Lemieux adds, "Read your Betty Friedan!" Though I'm paraphrasing a bit here....

Kevin Drum 12:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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Comments

Kevin Drum >'...Still, if you're going to report this stuff, shouldn't you report the full picture?"

Of course but then since there is a political agenda behind these sort of reports why would you expect honest research ?

"If you don't deal with reality, reality will deal with you" - C.J. Campbell

Posted by: daCascadian on March 2, 2007 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

We won't have this problem here. I heard on the radio the other day that eating soy products makes men homosexual.

Posted by: thersites on March 2, 2007 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

Take it from me -- It's kids.

Posted by: Pat on March 2, 2007 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Housework hours do go up for the woman in couples. A single woman can clean the house and it can stay relatively clean, but in couples, when one of them leaves his socks, shirts, snack plates, and mechanics magazines all over, it adds up to work. LOL.

And this 44 hours of men working outside stuff, are we talking about mowing the sidewalk outside our walk-up or about the time a guy spends down at the pub so he doesn't have to listen to his wife asking him to clean up his socks, shirts, snack plates, and mechanics magazines.

:)

Posted by: Zit on March 2, 2007 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Men are just faster at housework. The units of housework compared should be work-accomplished rather than hours-spent. Men would look better using such a comparison.

Posted by: Will Guthrie on March 2, 2007 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

But I was curious about why the total hours of housework goes up so dramatically for couples

Because many couples are in a state of competition -- even very loving couples. My wife and I, and most of our married friends, have fairly frequent debates about how "I do everything around here!". I know I often make it seem like I spend more time cleaning than I actualy do, as does my wife. When I was single, cleaning was just cleaning, who the hell knew how long it took?

Posted by: Marcus Wellby on March 2, 2007 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Men are just faster at housework.

I think that that is because men have a different idea of what doing a job means.

Women see things men miss, in case you haven't noticed.

Posted by: frankly0 on March 2, 2007 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

The quality of men's housework does not usually meet the standards their spouses prefer, who then spend extra time reworking it.

Posted by: Brojo on March 2, 2007 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

I don't dare touch anything at my house. I used to do everything to my complete satisfaction. Now I do nothing to my wife's satisfaction. And thing's are piling up.

P.S. My complaints belie the fact that my wife is a wonderful, wonderful woman. And I'm very afraid of her.

Posted by: LowLife on March 2, 2007 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

The quality of men's housework does not usually meet the standards their spouses prefer, who then spend extra time reworking it.

Well, when I clean my goal is to just get things clean. If my wife wants to tack on extra time rearranging her various pieces of brick-a-brac, scented candles, and other such trinkets and bobbles, while she "cleans" that is her problem. I mean, how many times can throw pillows be fluffed???

Posted by: Marcus Wellby on March 2, 2007 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a woman, and I'm a slob. any straight neat men out there want to pick up after me?

Posted by: Librul on March 2, 2007 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

When I have lived with other men, BFs or otherwise, they would attempt to clean up but it was not to my standards (when I feel like cleaning). If there's visible crud on the crockery, it ain't clean! Sweep the kitchen floor but don't wipe up noticeable spots with a wet paper towel? The job ain't done until the Brawny hits the linoleum!

Am I anybody's maid? No, not even my own, which is why the last go round had us using paper plates and plastic ware. (yes I am a very bad librul).

Posted by: Librul on March 2, 2007 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

As I posted at Matt's place, but essentially Kevin's point:

Missing data in the BBC report:

Assuming that 168 = work + sleep + recreation inside house + outside house

a) Number of working hours before and after
b) Number of sleep hours before and after
c) Number of recreational hours before and after
d) Number of outside house hours before and after

I don't think you can draw any meaningful conclusions about what is happening without studying the entire set of numbers.

Also, what would David Ricardo say about this? He may invoke comparative advantage and suggest that the partner that can be paid more money overall for all of their payable non housework time should do none of the housework and the person making less overall for all of their payable non housework time should be doing all of the housework.

Or invoke linear programming and just optimize the money made by the household by solving the two equations.

Or instead of mere blame of the patriarchy, you could ask what has happened in our society that two dual income earners cannot afford to pay for various household help. Would a couple in 1900 earning as much proportionaly as that couple earns in 2007 be expected to have household help? My (most likely wrong) understanding is that in 1900, such households would be able to support multiple houseworkers. It may not be men that are to blame as much as it is corporations, and a weaker labor movement.

Posted by: jerry on March 2, 2007 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

I think Jasper addressed the opportunity costs of housework and their impact on the economy in another thread.

Posted by: Brojo on March 2, 2007 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

I don't understand how you can reconcile your stance in your closing paragraph ("overall, there's not much question that men rarely do their fair share of housework") with the stats given in the paragraph before--men work an extra 13 hours outside the home, and women have 4 hours more per week of leisure time.

Unless your definition of fair is that men do exactly the same number of hours of housework as women, it seems clear that men, on average, *are* doing their fair share of housework. (And if men aren't doing their fair share of housework, then it's equally true that women aren't doing their fair share of jobwork.)

Given that women work substantially less outside the home, it only makes sense that a larger protion of the in-home chores fall to them. But even given that fact, women still have more leisure time than men.

So what's the argument that men should be spending even more of their leisure time doing housework in order to increase the leisure time advantage that women already enjoy?

Posted by: Doug T on March 2, 2007 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Librul >"...any straight neat men out there want to pick up after me?"

Why not just quit worrying about it & accept what works for you instead of using someone else`s standards of a "clean residence" ?

Enough with the Architectural Digest standards !

"We are accustomed to the new land yet attached to the old country" - anon

Posted by: daCascadian on March 2, 2007 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

But I was curious about why the total hours of housework goes up so dramatically for couples (two people shouldn't require twice the hours of housework as one person, should they?)

It's simple. The women have to spend extra hours cleaning up after the guys (and/or the guys are nagged into cleaning up after themselves), which is housework which single guys never bother to perform living on their own.

Posted by: Disputo on March 2, 2007 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Half the Human Experience, the sex psychology book by Janet Hyde, quite agrees with Levy, and gets it exactly right: regard keeping the house clean as a necessary nuisance, to be got of the way quickly and in accord with minimal standards of decency.

Like Levy, Hyde learned this invaluable lesson from her mother.

Posted by: Applauder on March 2, 2007 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

I found that my wife, who was actually quite tidy when we were dating and engaged, suddenly became much less so after we were married...

Did they compare men and women after marriage and did they include the kitchen and bathrooms in this study? Perhaps I'm just living with am outlier ;-)

Posted by: Brian on March 2, 2007 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

Librul: "I'm a woman, and I'm a slob. any straight neat men out there want to pick up after me?"

My stepfather, a retired Navy officer, would undoubtedly fill your bill -- of course, there are trade-offs, i.e., he has a stick up his ass about such matters. The grandchildren don't want to visit Grandma's house because he will rag on them mercilessly if they so much as leave a piece of silverware in the kitchen sink.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on March 2, 2007 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

I wrote a little on Table 2 and the study here.

The study isn't really about time-use surveys as such but about the bargaining process couples might use and how it causes certain outcomes between market and non-market work and why that matters.

Posted by: Echidne on March 2, 2007 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

From my own experience with 20 years + or -, no matter the circumstances, including when my wife worked & I wasn't, she always spent more time & kept a neater house than I did. Also, I seem to have been the one who left more clutter around, single & married. If anything, I would say the hours/week are on the low side.

Posted by: bob in fl on March 2, 2007 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin hit on the correct metric: how many leisure hours are consumed by each partner; and leisure hours are in the eye of the partaker.

No matter what the man does, the woman will almost always complain he isn't doing his share of the chores, that is just part of the deal. Accept it.

The bottom line is how much "doing things by yourself" does each partner partake. Everything else is work, sleep or sharing time.

My experience is that women want to be the person spending time on the household chores, while the man is assigned other things. Partly this is due to men not doing the chores correctly, partly because women like to do the chores, and partly this is self annointed sainthood.

Posted by: TT on March 2, 2007 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

My take as a married girl is that housework is not worth the friction and contention that nagging about it would bring. I kind of like taking care of our stuff. I like looking at it, caring for it, keeping it nice. If he helps, fine. If not, his contributions will be in other areas equally important to us. Housework discontent is small potatoes in the scheme of life.
Like bitching about a guy snoring. Who was it that said snoring is the sweetest music
this side of heaven...ask any widow....
And I have feminist tendencies and think this way

Posted by: consider wisely always on March 2, 2007 at 7:27 PM | PERMALINK

I'm an outlier - I'm the one who does a half-assed job of cleaning, and my husband is the one who is dissatisfied with the job I do on housework. I also work more hours outside of the home, and I go to school. And we have two kids, so they end up doing a good chunk of the cleaning, and I am always satisfied if someone else is doing the housework, even if it's done quarter-assed.

Posted by: maurinsky on March 2, 2007 at 11:04 PM | PERMALINK

On average, it seems that women have higher standards than men for housekeeping. I'm not judging who's right. I've seen so many times where the guys are fine with the condition of the house and if it is messy they are thinking that they will get around to cleaning it later. Women, on average, seem to have a higher level of intolerance for messes. They want that dish washed and put away now, not sometime before the weekend is over.

It always has irked me that girlfriends or my wife would clean something far beyond the level that I cared about and then expected me to somehow praise them for this where I felt more like chiding them for it. Most of the time I wisely bite my tongue and keep silent. Nevertheless, it feels like a trap for them to do something I didn't want and then expect praise not criticize them for that. It is kind of like they have access to my emotional check book.

And yet, somehow the reverse case never holds water. If I bug my wife for not keeping the OS on her computer up to date or for not backing up her hard drive or for not keeping the tire pressures in her car up to standards or for not getting oil changes in her car she never feels bad about that. Somehow that just makes her upset. There are some sort of deep emotions or culture going on here that I don't understand.

Off topic but my wife once told me that girls don't like to be criticized. I was once on a train in Japan where according to etiquette one should not use a cell phone. Two young people, a boy and a girl were using their cell phones. An old man criticized them for misbehaving. The boy apologized and put away his phone. The girl shot back with a lot of vitriol and called the old man a noisy old so-and-so and then got off at the next station in a huff. The human drama sure is entertaining.

Posted by: JohnK on March 3, 2007 at 1:56 AM | PERMALINK

"Off topic but my wife once told me that girls don't like to be criticized"

In my experience, this is generally true. I certainly realize there are exceptions, but I know plenty of anecdotal evidence, both working and in interpersonal relationships including my own marriage, supporting this. My wife tends to flare up when criticized, whereas my usual response is, "I'm sorry dear; I'll fix (whatever I did wrong)." I know that, as a rule, women I have worked with tend to have a harder time with job-related criticism than men I work with.

Again, anecdotes only, but seems to square with what I know from my own life. With regards to the cleaning, my wife and I are pretty equitable although she would probably be tidier than I, left to her own devices.

ironically, of our two kids, our son (3.5) is neater than his sister (6); he likes to pick up after himself and put things away. She doesn't.

Posted by: Norsecats on March 3, 2007 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK

One of the reasons female partners in general have "higher standards" than their male partners (in general) is because SHE is considered responsible by society to keep the house clean.

Have an unclean house. Invite the guy's mother over. Is she more likely to make nasty comments to her son or snide comments to her daughter-in-law?

Posted by: grumpy realist on March 4, 2007 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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