That’s the news from a recent cover story in Time by Ruth Davis Konigsberg. I’m always excited to see the American Time Use Survey get popular coverage, particularly in this case, where Konigsberg used the ATUS and work from Suzanne Bianchi and John Robinson (whose research features prominently in 168 Hours) to debunk the whole “Second Shift” concept.
The Second Shift, Arlie Hochschild’s work of sociology, shares much in common with Juliet Schor’s The Overworked American. It had a ton of influence — influence that continues today (The Second Shift is going to be re-released soon). It is also based on people’s impressions of how they spend their time, ignoring huge realities of how they actually spend their time (which is what the ATUS tracks). Hochschild’s work also happened to catch a cohort of young families right as the big shift in the labor market was happening, of women entering the workforce, and before things got entirely shaken out.
There are always unfair moments of parenthood — especially as a new mom when you feel like your husband is not pulling his weight. Especially as these new moms go back to work, books like The Second Shift seem to pick up on the biggest unfair moments. Konigsberg writes about how when her kids were littler, she was working at home, and she’d send the babysitter home at a certain point, then seethe until her husband got home from work. But, of course, he was dealing with work deadlines he often couldn’t control, dealing with a commute, and she didn’t have to send the sitter home when she did (and, as she writes, she now has more sitting hours). She simply had a certain idea of what was appropriate.
This idea of what is appropriate continues with a lot of chores, too. If a woman has certain standards for housekeeping that her husband doesn’t share, is this a matter of him not pulling his weight, or not thinking the same things are important?
As it is, Bianchi’s work has noted that for years men and women in 2-parent homes have done roughly the same amount of overall labor — adding up paid and non-paid work (childcare, housework). The numbers have been very close. That doesn’t mean some families are horribly unequal. But these families are not the norm. One could argue that paid work is more valued in our society, which is probably true, though not all housework and childcare is awful and not all paid work is wonderful either. I’d rather play with my kids than be commuting. If you have a boring, repetitive job, then plenty of elements of housework (cooking, grocery shopping) can also be more pleasant.
But even if The Second Shift were ever true, it is less true now than at any other point in which Americans have been tracking time. Men and women’s paid work hours are creeping closer together. Men are doing more childcare and housework, to the point where men in 2-career couples are more likely to complain of work-life balance issues than women (it is possible that offices have become more accommodating of mothers, but not of fathers). And so, Konigsberg writes, it is time to put the chore wars behind us. All in all, a provocative read.