Research on Who Does the. Housework and Child Care. Ж
When I read Gwendolyn Salisbury Hughes’s description of women factory workers in Philadelphia after World War I doing laundry and washing their front steps on Saturday mornings, I was reminded of the stories I was hearing from women over sixty years later. But in 1918, when Gwendolyn Hughes was collecting her information, no one would have thought to do a survey comparing mens work at home with womens. Outside of a small social circle, in 1918 this comparison was hard to imagine.
In contrast, through the mid-1960s, 1970s, and 1980s there has been an explosion of research that compares working women to men in their relative contributions to the home. One of the largest time-use studies was conducted by John Robinson at the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center. In his 1965 survey, published in 1977, Robinson gave the 1,244 men and women the so-called yesterday interview in which respondents were asked to remember on one day what they did the previous day. The study overrepresented urban, educated people. The same interview was conducted by Alexander Szalai in 1965-66 in twelve other countries in Western and Eastern Europe, including West Germany, Belgium, France, East Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia, and the former USSR.
A second major study, by Kathryn Walker and Margaret Woods, sampled 1,296 men and women (all married couples) living in Syracuse, New York, in 1967 (the report was published in 1976). Their methods differed from those of Robinson, but both found a large leisure gap between working men and women. Both found that husbands of working wives do little more at home than husbands of housewives. Both found that husbands of working wives actually put in altogether fewer hours of work (paid
work combined with work at home) than did husbands of housewives— because husbands of working wives could now afford to cut back on their paid work. These husbands did proportionally more than husbands of housewives (25 percent versus 15 percent of home work) but that’s because both spouses did less at home when the wife went out to work.
Are men doing more now? Studies done in the late 1970s and 1980s come up with mixed findings. Some studies find no increase. The 1977 nationwide “Quality of Employment” survey done by the University of Michigan combined the hours of paid and unpaid work men and women each do and found a daily leisure gap of 2.2 hours, about the same gap researchers found in the 1960s. Another study—this one in 1985— by Bradley Googins of Boston University’s School of Social Work, took as its subjects the 651 employees of a Boston-based corporation. Of these employees, the married mother averaged 85 hours a week on job, homemaking, and child care. The married father averaged 66 hours—a nineteen-hour-per-week leisure gap. In 1983, Grace Baruch and Rosalind Barnetts study of 160 middle-class Boston families found no difference in the help around the house between men whose wives worked and men whose wives didn’t. In her 1983 study of 1,500 white working couples, Shelley Coverman found that women did a total of 87 hours of paid and unpaid work while men did 76—leaving a leisure gap of 11 hours a week. In her 1981 study of professional women with children, Sara Yogev found a leisure gap of 30 hours.
In her 1977 study, Harriet Presser asked how much husbands increased their work at home after their wives took outside jobs. She found 44 percent of the husbands did more work at home, 45 percent did the same amount, and 11 percent actually did less. One study by Greg Duncan and James Morgan (1978) presents some stark statistics on the extra hours of work marriage costs women and saves men. They reported hours of housework per year as follows: 1,473 for married women, and 886 for single women, 301 for married men, and 468 for single men. All of this evidence points to “no change.”
But other recent studies find a decrease in the leisure gap. One study— a replication of the earlier University of Michigan study by Robinson— found that women worked only a tiny bit longer than men each day. Between 1965 and 1975 Robinson and his coworkers found the leisure gap between men and women had virtually disappeared. Men weren’t doing more housework and childcare. Women were doing less, and putting in four to five hours less on the job as well. Rather than renegotiating roles with their husband, these wives pursued a strategy of cutting back at home and at work.
If this study is representative of women and men in the general population, then “cutting back”—not male sharing—is the new response to the strains of being a supermom. But I don’t believe this study is representative of the general population, and the researchers themselves were puzzled. During 1965 through 1975, when this study was done, hours of women’s paid labor did not shrink and the proportion of women part-timers did not increase in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Table 677), the proportion of women working part time was 19 percent in 1965, 22 percent in 1970,21 percent in 1975,21 percent in 1980, and 20 percent in 1982. In short, most women continued to work full time. The proportion who worked part time didn’t change between 1965 to 1982.
But the hours at work of women in this study did decline, and the decline was probably an artifact of the researchers’ method. In hopes of improving the accuracy of their study, the researchers periodically reinterviewed the same respondents at different times of day. So detailed and repeated were the questions in this study that about a quarter of the people dropped out of it—among them, presumably, the busiest. Ironically, the women most burdened by the very crunch the researchers were investigating probably didn’t have time to fill out such a lengthy questionnaire.
Observing the findings of this study, Joseph Pleck cautiously hailed the day when the problem of the leisure gap would pass. But the fact is, for most women that day has not come. Even if all women could iron out the leisure gap by working part time, is part-time work a solution if it’s just for women? Given the increasing danger of marginalizing family life, I believe it’s important to offer and legitimate well-paid part-time jobs (see Chapter 17), but for men as well. I think it would be a mistake to settle for part-time work “just for women.” This division of labor would lead to economic and career inequities between men and women, which would make women economically vulnerable in an age in which half of marriages don’t last. A better solution might be to share the part-time option or alternate part-time phases of each spouse’s work life.