In the groundbreaking 1989 book “the Second Shift,” Arlie Hochschild makes the argument that the women’s movement helped to break down gender discrimination in the workplace, but did very little to address inequality in household domestic labor.
The working women portrayed in her book are chronically burning the candle on both ends — working a full shift at work, and coming home for a second shift of domestic labor. Their husbands for the most part do not share fully or equally in this labor. Based on the best data available to her, she claims:
“Adding together the time it takes to do a paid job and to housework and childcare… I discovered that women worked roughly fifteen hours longer each week than men. Over a year, they worked an extra month of twenty-four hour days.” (p. 3)
Is it still true that working mothers put in an extra month per year? Was it ever true?
As it turns out, women perform dramatically more hours of unpaid labor than men do, but men perform much more paid labor. Combining paid and unpaid labor, men and women are roughly equal (women do a bit more, but the difference is not significant).
The data, summarized below in a series of tables from a Census Bureau report, comes from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS). The ATUS asks respondents how much time they spend in a 24 hour recall period doing various activities such as work, childcare, housework, watching television, volunteering, and socializing. (Because the ATUS only goes back 2003, it is difficult to provide a definitive answer about the 1990s and before).
Here are the highlights (quoted from the report):
- Women spent more time doing each of the activities than did men. Women spent an average of 6.3 hours more per week doing household activities than did men (15.5 versus 9.2 hours) and 2.4 hours more per week providing care to household members (4.4 versus 2.0 hours).
- Women were nearly five times as likely as men to do laundry; three times as likely as men to clean; and almost twice as likely as men to prepare food on an average day. By contrast, men were twice as likely as women to do maintenance and repair on an average day.
- On average across all persons age 15 and older, including those who were employed and those who were not employed, men spent 31.4 hours per week doing paid work and women spent 21.0 hours per week doing paid work
- Taking paid and unpaid work activities together, men and women each spent about the same number of hours per week working; men spent 47.4 hours per week and women spent 47.7 hours per week doing such activities.
It’s quite important to note that even if the overall division of hours between men and women are roughly equal on average, it does not mean that men and women can be said to inhabit equal roles. First, some women might prefer to work more hours in a paid job, but are not able to do so because the demands of maintaining a household or caring for children fall more heavily on their shoulders. By the same token, it’s also true that many men might prefer to have more work flexibility, that would allow them to spend more time with their children or taking care of the household. Second, less employment history for many women is likely to make their positions in the labor market more precarious, increasing their dependence on the wages of a male breadwinner. In the case of a divorce, a women with little employment history often leaves the marriage with fewer skills and economic resources. Finally, it’s important to note that men still do mainly maintenance and repair related chores, while women take care of children, cleaning, and food preparation. Again, it’s not entirely clear which of these things people would most like to do if they couldn’t pay someone else to do them for them — would you rather change diapers or fix leaky faucets?