Chore Wars: Men & Women Work the Same

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.

3 thoughts on “Chore Wars: Men & Women Work the Same

  1. I don’t get the argument or what you are trying to say here. I will read the TIME article to see what she is trying to say. It is true that you do not have to send the nanny or babysitter home at 5 p.m. but somebody does have to come “home” or leave the home office at some point, kids under 10 don’t really feed themselves a healthy dinner and most folks don’t want childcare workers raising their kids. I do think the book The Second Shift is still very very valid– working parents do work a Second Shift, and are probably the only folks in America who truly work 100 hours or more a week… You do the logs so you would know.. I’d say the average full time working parent who is doing a full-time second shift has no more than 3 free hours a day and that includes showering, personal care, exercise eating (have you ever tried sitting down to a meal with say more than one child under age 4?) Just because men do more now than in the book doesn’t mean the book dosn’t offer a whole lot. I also think this is particularly true of parents of kids under age 6. OK if your kids are 10 and 13 your issues are different.
    I don’t think saying hey my spouse works 75 hours at “paid” labor and I work 40 hours with paid labor and 35-50 hours with the kids or 50 with the kids… means everything is great and dandy… If men did more at home and in the unpaid space and women did more in the paid space — and these two are fundamentally related b/c no men do not do more than women in the unpaid domestic work space — and I think we could define work here as something if you do not do you would have to pay someone else to do it… so we still have an issue of economic and social power for women.. remember also that post-feminism of the 70s, in divorce a womans domestic labor is not recognized… so she has to go out and get a job — and the big salary her husband pulls as a result of her domestic labors is now recognized as his — thank you betty friedan! so she still is poor relative to her spouse and divorce is worse for her…
    but would like to work more to get more money and power —

  2. It seems to me this is what she is trying to say: Though it’s still true that women with young children do put in more hours around the house and with the kids, at the same time their husbands are putting more time in at the office (where cutting back hours as a new dad isn’t typically an option). They work the same total number of hours it’s just that the guy gets to advance his career and do paid work and the woman gets tied to parenting for a variety of reasons… I do not see this as good news for professional women… b/c it means that they have to slow down their careers and their earning potential to procreate — it seems an argument for mandatory alimony or recognition of domestic labor in divorce … and a great argument for why parenthood drives women into the poorhouse… I don’t see how it is so great if me and my husband are working the same hours but I am changing diapers and he is climbing the ladder.. also as someone who has done both jobs — the paid work is easier than the grunt work of parenting which is very rewarding but very demanding particularly for children under 6.

  3. I read the article for real in the library while my kid was doing something(one paragraph at a time, one great honey after each paragraph) and agree with her on a couple of fronts
    1. her take on the role of men is interesting and I like it — if a guy is bringing home a big salary but his wife, stay-at-home, part-time or otherwise full time — expects him to do more and more I could see howthat creates conflict internally for him especially since it is highly unlikely his own father experienced a similar level of domestic expectation and I could see how the employer is like wtf how can my employee be pulling the father card… and I do think that if we want fathers we have to allow them to father also …. and also as women try to be more empathetic to them.. my husband sometimes can’t do as much child care sharing with me as would be my preference but often it is because he is working..
    2. I also agree with her women of children have very little isolated leisure time unless they take it as such — reading, seeing movies, getting pedicures, most women with kids ahve a way to do this.. but it is very hard to carve out
    3. her stats on how little difference there is between how many childcare hours stay at home moms do and working full time moms do are shocking and I think Laura has spoken to this … but there is something to be said there.. I’d say working moms feel more guilt and overcompensate and stay-at=home moms doing 70 hours of child care a week burn out and are often less effective parents after years of this… anyway there are some interesting stats there I’d like to see more about…. I liked those graphs about how much work, personal and domestic those bar graphs are nice
    The Second Shift is still a brilliant term and not sure why we are being so hard on the author ….

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