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  • Writer's pictureScott Behson

These Chores Don’t Count? On Men’s Hidden “Second Shift”

Updated 3/25/13

The stereotype: “Housework is the only activity at which men are allowed to be consistently inept because they are thought to be so competent at everything else” – Letty Cottin Pogrebin

The reality: “The fellow who owns his own home is always coming out of a hardware store” -Kin Hubbard

Jobs using these do not get counted in major studies of housework (photo used under Creative Commons agreement)

For decades, The Bureau of Labor Statistics has conducted the Americans Time Use Survey (ATUS) and the University of Michigan has conducted the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). Through surveys and time use diaries, these studies track employment patterns, as well as how Americans divide their time among their daily work and non-work tasks.

No surprise- these projects have consistently found that men spend more time at work than women, and women spend more time on housework than men. These gaps, which were once huge, have significantly narrowed over the decades, until stabilizing in about the late 1990s.

Two specific findings illustrate where we are today. First, the 2011 ATUS found that full-time employed men average 3.5 more working hours a week than full-time employed women. Second, the 2005 PSID found that, among dual-earner couples, women spend about 4.5 more hours per week on household chores than men. This household work gap is often referred to as women’s “Second Shift” (i.e., both men and women work their first shifts at work, but women also work a second shift of housework), based on the title of Dr. Arlie Hochschield’s excellent study on this issue.

So far, there’s nothing controversial here, and I bet these numbers ring true for many of us, even those who do a significant amount of household chores. The fact is women do somewhat more around the house than we do.

But look at those numbers again. Taking both paid work and household work together, that’s only a one hour difference per week. Despite the media’s constant harping on “chore wars” (see this article or this blog post for typical superficial “journalism” on this subject), this doesn’t seem to me like the demise of feminism and equal opportunity that it is often made out to be.

And, in my opinion, the one hour difference per week doesn’t even tell the whole story.

According to the PSID’s own report:

Housework was defined as “core chores,” or routine housework that people generally do not enjoy doing such as washing dishes, laundry, vacuuming floors and dusting… Routine housework, like cooking dinner or making beds, was captured…. Other activities such as home repairs, mowing the lawn, and shoveling snow were not in the study. Items such as gardening are usually viewed as more enjoyable; the focus here is on core housework. (italics are mine).

All I can say to that is Wha-wha-whaaaaaat!!!??? Shoveling snow is enjoyable and thus should not count as a chore? Mowing the lawn in August is enjoyable? Fixing a clogged toilet is enjoyable? Grouting? Painting a room? Hauling air conditioners up the stairs? Doing the taxes? Changing the car’s oil? Crawling through the musty crawl space to repair a leaky pipe?

You get my drift.

While I admit some “men’s chores” are pretty enjoyable (after all, there is satisfaction in repairing something in the house yourself instead of calling a repairman), I think making such a large distinction between “unenjoyable routine housework” and “enjoyable chores” is, well, just plain wrong.  Some people get loads of satisfaction from cooking or from maintaining a clean house, too. But enjoyability is not the main issue.

The big problem is that “definitive” studies like PSID emphasize tasks that are typically performed more by women as “household chores”, while either minimizing or excluding more typical men’s chores. I get that “our” chores are not quite as routine or everyday and therefore harder to measure, but most of us working dads are also on-call handymen (I love my wife and she is an awesome partner who does more than her fair share, but she’s not the one bailing water out of the basement after a flood).

And, more importantly, the flaws in the data exaggerate the housework gap, failing to recognize our contributions. As a result, the men’s “second shift” gets short shrift.

You know what they say about research and data- “Garbage in, garbage out” (o yeah, they don’t count that chore either…)

How do you feel about the division of labor and household chores? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

This article was republished at the Good Men Project online men’s magazine, generating over 90 comments.  Follow this link to the article.

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