A debate still rages in social science research between two camps. One, represented by Gary Becker in his Economic Approach to Human Behavior, claims that wives do more housework because couples reason that “its good for everybody” if husbands focus on work, since they generally earn more. Womens greater work at home is thus part of a family strategy to maximize economic utility. Implicitly, he argues that this collective strat­egy involves little struggle and, indeed, has nothing to do with ideology or male privilege. The second camp, best represented by Joan Huber and Glenna Spitze in Sex Stratification, argues that such arrangements are as much cultural as they are economic. And according to their own massive study, it is the size of the wife’s paycheck and not the wage gap between spouses that influences the amount of work a husband does at home.

In search of an invisible “economic hand” that might explain why some couples do and some don’t share the work at home in imy own study, I set about dividing our fifty couples into three groups—high-wage gap (in which the husbands earned much more than the wives), middle-wage gap, and low-wage gap. I found no statistically significant relation be­tween the wage gap between husband and wife and the leisure gap.

To cross-check this finding, I reanalyzed a subsample of another sixty – five couples (both of whom worked full time and cared for children under age fifteen) drawn from a larger national study done by the Survey Re­search Center at the University of Michigan in 1981. (This was the same 1977 sample that showed the disappearing leisure gap.) I divided the cou­ples into four groups: the husband earned 75 percent or more of the total family income, between 55 and 75 percent, between 45 and 55 percent, and the wife earned more. I found that the less the wife earned (relative to her husband) the more housework she did. Women in group one con­tributed 72 percent of all the housework; in the second group, they con­tributed 66 percent; in the third, 55 percent; and in the fourth, 49 percent. Although women who earned more than their husbands did less housework, they did not have more leisure. The reason for this was that the /^-earning women who did more housework worked shorter hours, so they could do the housework and have more leisure. Still puzzled, I looked again at my own fifty couples, teased apart the low-wage-gap group, and discovered that—in contrast to the couples in the University of Michigan study—the women who outearned their husbands often did so because their husbands weren’t doing so well at work. (This may not have been the case for high-earning wives in the Michigan study.) Look­ing more closely, I discovered the principle of “balancing”—wives “mak­ing up” for doing “too well” at work by doing more at home.

Taking off from Huber and Spitze, then, I conclude that the leisure gap between wives and husbands reflects something more than these cou­ples’ pragmatic adaptation to the higher wages of American men—an in­terplay of gender strategy.

[1]2001 Statistical Abstracts Table No. 578: Labor Force Participation Roles for Wives, Husbands Present by Age of Own Youngest Child 1975 to 2000. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U. S. Department of Labor, Table 6: Employment Status of Mothers with Own Children Under 3 Years Old by Single Year of Youngest Child and Marital Sta­tus, 2001-01 annual averages.

[2]According to the University of Michigan study, men s hours of paid work rose from 39.7 hours a week in 1990 to 44.5 hours in 1995. For women (and this is. working well as non-working women, so average hours are lower than they would be for just working women), hours of paid work rose from 24 in 1990 to 27 in 1995. (See Time Use Diary and Direct Reports, by F. Thomas Juster, Hiromi Ono, and Frank P. Stafford (Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, unpublished report. Tables 9 and 10, pp. 39-49.) Also see Families and the Labor Market, 1969-1999: Analyzing the Time Crunch, May 1999, Report by the Council of Economic Advi­sors, Washington, D. C. Also according to a 2000 report, 46 percent of workers work 41 hours or longer and 18 percent work 51 hours or longer. (See the Center for Sur­vey Research and Analysis, University of Connecticut, “2000 Report on U. S. Work­ing Time.”)

[3] Blue-collar workers in American small firms—where union membership is low— average seven days of paid vacation a year, and clerical and sales workers, nine.

[4] Paul Krugman, “The End of Middle-Class America (and the Triumph of the Plu­tocrats),” The New York Times Magazine у October 20, 2002, pp. 62-142.

[5]This is more true of white and middle-class women than it is of black or poor women, whose mothers often worked outside the home. But the trend I am talking about—:an increase from 20 percent of women in paid jobs in 1900 to 55 percent in 1986—has affected a large number of women.

[6] flip-flop all the time. One day I want to be superloving. I honestly feel Robert can contribute more than I can. He’s better educated. He’s just plain smarter. He’s genuinely gifted, and when he’s able to apply himself, he can really accomplish something, can make a name for himself. I care about him having time to think. One of the contributions I can make is allowing him to make a valuable contribution before I’m burned out. I tell him, “I want to take the pressure off of you. You don’t have to worry anymore about coming home at six. You don’t have to worry about taking care of the children in the evenings. You need more time to work on your trains.” I go through this long spiel. I’m going to play this incredible role.

Then when I come home at six-thirty, take care of the kids, cook dinner, go to bed, get woken up by the baby, I get totally exhausted. I can’t stand it anymore. Then I dump on him for not keeping up his 50 percent of the bargain, and causing me to feel so harassed all the time. He knows now this is just a

[7] fool people into thinking I take my work seriously. It’s not that I think males around me are more capable, or that their jobs are more meaningful. I just think it’s amazing that they take their work seriously. The work is not really helping anyone. It’s just a pile of paper with numbers on it. It’s not really real.

I envy people who are committed to what they’re doing. It’s almost like envying people with religion; they seem happier.

It’s strange; I expect men to go around taking their work very

[8] When she was nineteen, Anita married a musician in New Or­leans and after a year she had her daughter, Ruby. While her hus­band worked during the day and played his trombone four nights a week and on weekends, Anita stayed home with the baby. Feel­ing both dependent and neglected, she went back to work as a sec­retary, really for the adult company as much as for the money. Then, without consulting her, Anita’s husband decided to quit his daytime job in order to return to music school. This struck a cer­tain raw nerve. Not being consulted or warned, not being sup­ported, felt a lot like being abandoned. Her response was quick: she took the baby and left.

[9] don’t know whether I’m rationalizing in order to feel good about myself while I’m not working, or whether I’m on to the innermost truth. But I’ve changed my perspective. I’ve missed the sexy part of business, going out to lunch and talking about big deals, talking about things that “really mattered.” I lived like that for years. Only over the past few years have I realized how superficial that life really is. In the long run, what’s important is Daryl, Beverly, Greg, and my friends—some of those friends are work friends. These are who I will carry in my heart to the grave.

[10] realized I was going to sink in my mid-career review unless I published. So that fall when I was dashing around madly teaching and doing committee work during the week, I started working weekends. I worked through five weekends in a row, and Г11 never do it again. It was a complete disaster. My kids regressed a hundred and one paces. They were upset about being separated from me, because Michael was out of town at a conference and couldn’t take care of them. First I tried working in the study at home, but that was too hard. Then I went into my office, and that’s where I got a surprise. One of my colleagues said, “What brings you in?” And another said, “We haven’t seen you in all four years you’ve been here.” These are the guys who’ve said to me—I must have heard it fifteen times in my four years here—“You’ve got your husband to support you.” And when I meet them in the halls they always say, “How are the twins?”

[11] went through a period where I wasn’t really involving myself in a lot of housework—like most men, I have to admit. That’s

[12] said, “So were you doing some of the chores?”

[13]More white women are entering formerly “male jobs.” This may explain why white women just entering the job market in 1980 earned 83 percent of that earned by comparable white men. But the longer the two sexes stay on the job, the greater the wage gap. If the social class of each sex was determined solely on the basis of salary, benefits, and assets, the upper classes would be largely male and the lower classes largely female.