We Can Now Quantify Gender Inequality in Household Work, Child Care
For the first time, researchers have quantified gender inequality in household work and child care.
If you’re a fan of gender equality, you’ll be disappointed.
The study found that three months after the birth of their first child, on days when couples were not working, men were likely to relax while women did housework or child care. But it’s not like the men don’t do any kind of work at home — it’s just that whenever men were taking care of the kids or working around the house, their partners were doing care or household work, too. (No word on whether the latter scenario was the result of, “I’m happy to help — just tell me what to do.”)
One telling statistic of gender inequality in family life: Women spent 46 to 49 minutes relaxing while men did child care or housework on their day off. But men spent about twice that amount of time in leisure — about 101 minutes — while their partners did some kind of parenting or household work.
“It’s frustrating,” said Claire Kamp Dush, lead author of the study and associate professor of human sciences at The Ohio State University. “Household tasks and child care are still not being shared equally, even among couples whom we expected would have more egalitarian views of how to share parenting duties.”
The research, published online in the journal Sex Roles, followed 52 couples who participated in the New Parents Project, an Ohio State study of mostly highly educated, white, dual-earner couples living in the university’s surrounding region, who were having their first child.
“It is a small sample. It is not the definitive answer, and is mostly relevant to similar couples. But we need to look into this further and understand how dual-earner couples are sharing housework and child care,” Kamp Dush said.
(One reason for the small, homogeneous sample is the difficulty of doing this kind of study, Kamp Dush said. The researchers are not aware of any other study in which both parents completed detailed time diaries of what they were doing on the same days and at the same times.)
The researchers asked the couples to complete their own time diaries for a workday and a non-workday during the third trimester of the woman’s pregnancy and about three months after the baby’s birth.
On workdays after the baby was born, women did slightly more work than men, though the distribution of housework and child care was more gender equal than on weekends (non-workdays). During the work week, “it’s very much ‘all hands on deck’ — but when there is more time available on the weekend and parents are not so pressed to get everything done, then we see the emergence of gendered patterns and inequality where women do a lot more housework and childcare while he leisures,” said Jill Yavorsky, a co-author and professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, gender inequality at home after a baby was added to the mix: Men’s leisure time actually doubled from before to after their partners gave birth, from 47 to 101 minutes. On their days off, men were relaxing 46% of the time while their partners did child care. In contrast, women were engaged in leisure only 16% of the time when their partners were taking care of their child. Results were similar for housework: Fathers kicked back 35% of the time while their partner did tasks like cleaning, while women relaxed only 19% of the times that men did housework. (And it should be noted, women are doing this extra work on less sleep than their partners.)
“I suspect the situation may be even less equitable for women who don’t have all the advantages of the couples in our sample,” Kamp Dush said. And, perhaps, in less gender-equal cultures.
The solution seems simple. Men need to get in there and take care of their child and house, particularly on the weekends, she said. In some cases, moms may need to step back and let fathers do housework and child care tasks without hovering to make sure they meet her standards.
“Couples need to be having conversations, ideally before their baby is born, about how they are going to divide household tasks to make sure they are equitable,” she said. “At the time we studied them, these couples were setting up routines that may last several years as the kids grow. Couples need to be having these conversations from the first few months.”
Start with the weekends, my brothers.