Juggling Multiple Roles
When both members of a couple with dependents are employed, who cleans the house, cooks the meals, and takes care of the children when they are ill? This question gets to the heart of the core dilemma of modern, dual-earner couples: How are household chores divided? How are work and family role conflicts handled?
Dividing Household Chores. Despite much media attention and claims of increased sharing in the duties, women still assume the lion’s share of housework regardless of employment status. Working mothers spend about twice as many hours per week as their husbands in family work and bear the greatest responsibility for household and child-care tasks (Etzion & Bailyn, 1994; Goldberg & Perry-Jenkins, 2004; Wood & Repetti, 2004). This unequal division of labor creates the most arguments and causes the most unhappiness for dual-earner couples. This is the case with Jennifer and Bill, the couple in the section-opening vignette; Jennifer does most of the housework.
A great deal of evidence indicates that women have decreased the amount of time they spend on housework since the 1970s, especially when they
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Image copyright ScottyH 2009. Used under license from Shutterstock. com
With the increase in dual-career families, effective strategies are needed to juggle many roles.
are employed, and that men have increased the amount of time they spend on such tasks (Swanson, 1992; Wood & Repetti, 2004). The increased participation of men in these tasks is not all it may seem, however. Most of the increase is on weekends, with specific tasks that they agree to perform, and is related to the number of hours the mothers have worked (Wood & Repetti, 2004; Zick & McCullough, 1991). In short, this increase in men’s participation has not done much to lower women’s burdens around the house as the photograph shows.
Women and men view the division of labor in very different terms. Men were often most satisfied with an equitable division of labor based on the number of hours spent, especially if the amount of time needed to perform household tasks was relatively small. Women perceived greater fairness in the lopsided division of family labor when they enjoyed family work and when the women and their spouses believed the women were competent at it (Grote et al., 2002). When ethnic minorities are studied, much the same is true concerning satisfaction. For example, in African American dual-earner couples, women were twice as likely as men to feel overburdened with housework and to be dissatisfied with their family life (Broman, 1988).
Ethnic differences in the division of household labor are also apparent. In a study of European
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American, African American, and Hispanic men, several interesting patterns emerged (Shelton & John, 1993). African American and Hispanic men tend to spend more time doing household tasks than do European American men. In the case of African American men, this finding supports the view that such households are more egalitarian than European American households. Moreover, the increased participation of African American men was primarily true of employed (as opposed to unemployed) men. There was greater participation in traditionally female tasks, such as washing dishes and cooking. Similarly, Hispanic men’s participation also tended to reflect increased participation in these tasks. Overall, European American men spent the least time helping with traditionally female tasks. These data clearly indicate that the degree to which men and women divide household tasks varies not only with gender, but with ethnicity as well.
In sum, the available evidence from dual-earner couples indicates that women still perform more household tasks than men, but that the difference varies with ethnic groups. The discrepancy is greatest when the male endorses traditional masculine gender roles and is less when the male endorses more feminine or androgynous gender roles (Gunter & Gunter, 1990; Napholz, 1995).
Work-Family Conflict. When people have both occupations and children, they must figure out how to balance the demands of each. For example, parents may agonize over how to be at their daughter’s ballgame at the same time they have to be at an important business meeting. These competing demands cause work-family conflict, which is the feeling of being pulled in multiple directions by incompatible demands from one’s job and one’s family.
Research provides some evidence of how to deal with work-family conflict successfully. When women were clear in their commitment to their careers, marriage, and children, and couples equally shared housework and emotional work, they successfully combined them without high levels of distress (Zimmerman et al., 2003). How did they do it?