Bringing Home the Bacon, and Cooking it Too

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?

About Brendan Saloner

I am a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania in the Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholars Program. I completed a PhD in health policy at Harvard in 2012. My current research focuses on children's health, public programs, racial/ethnic disparities, and mental health. I am also interested in justice and health care.
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6 Responses to Bringing Home the Bacon, and Cooking it Too

  1. Ben Baumberg says:

    Has anyone explained how Hochshild’s results were so wrong, or is it just one of those things that disappears with better data?

    The results are very interesting anyway (I find time use studies mesmering, if slightly disturbing when I’m writing up my thesis…). Two extensions to time use studies are also particularly interesting
    1. The substitutability of time and money – can we see which people are both ‘time-poor’ and ‘income-poor’, and can’t afford to substitute money for time (or vice versa)?
    2. How does ‘discretionary time’ (NOT working time) vary across countries?

    If I can find the time to re-read the (meaty) studies behind each of these, I’ll try and post something about this next week.

  2. Hi Ben, very good question. I don’t actually know why current estimates are so radically different than those obtained by Hochschild — data probably plays a big part, but there’s probably also some differences in how she defines “work.” It’s possible that there are also some trends over time, but I doubt large enough to account for such a large difference. I’ll try to look into it.

    I’d love to see something on both of those questions you highlighted. On your first question, I’d like to know more about what is meant by “afford,” which is a fairly slippery term. Some affluent people in the United States say, without abuse of language, that they can’t afford to cut back their work hours because then they wouldn’t be able to send their children to private universities. Probably it’s better to start by defining a certain standard of living, and then seeing how much time spent working would be required in order to attain that standard.

  3. Diederik Boertien says:

    Hi Brendan,

    Great to see a post about Time Use! Time Use seems to me an ideal way of looking at the development of gender inequalities/relations within societies.

    I have one comment about the double shift argument. I am not sure if Hochschild´s argument applied to all working women (I haven’t read it though). I think the argument applied to double-breadwinner couples where both parts of the couple work full-time. It is in those cases that you would expect (when aiming for gender equality) both parts of the couple to share unpaid work equally too. And this, I think, is still now not the case.

    The data from this post show the averages of unpaid and paid work for all employed people, which includes many part-time employed women. If we look at women working full-time only and the average hours they have less for leisure compared to their partner, I think the differences in leisure (24 hours – (paid + unpaid work) ) do exist. So to put it differently, if we would count the number of women doing double shifts, I think there are quite many. It is just that their high paid hours are not found back in the averages of the data because of the many women working part-time.

    I am not sure how this actually looks like now for the U.S., but I made some quick calculations with the British Time Use Survey (2000). Based on time-diaries filled out on a certain day, we see for weekdays that in total women have 20 minutes less of work if we define work as paidwork+ housework and 78 minutes more work if we add childcare to this (being with the children can be seen as a desirable activity). These are averages for all women. If we only look at couples where both parts of the couple worked at least 7 hours on that day we see that women have done per day on average 32 minutes more of work (incl. childcare). Half of the women have one hour more of work done on the day (compared with 25% of men). Indeed, we won’t reach the fifteen hours of work women do more per week, but significant differences do exist. (also we know that since 1989 the housework done by males has increased quite a bit).

    I think it would be interesting to see how the differences in leisure time look like for full-time employed couples in the U.S. , but that data I didn’t have on my computer..

  4. Hi Diederick,

    That’s a very helpful observation — and you’re probably right about what Hochschild restricting her focus to double bread-winner households. Still, we can observe that for everything to average out, the non full-time working women in the population would be clocking less total work hours (paid plus unpaid) on average than men. From an equity standpoint, we might feel differently about this if those women also had more leisure than their male partners, versus a scenario where they are unable to find enough work or are prevented from working by other household obligations.

    Relevant to your comment, there is a report that looks at mothers and fathers, comparing full and part-time ( ).

    Here’s an interesting finding:
    “Married mothers who were not employed and had children under 18 spent 4.2 hours doing leisure activities on an average day, while married mothers who were employed full time spent 2.9 hours. By contrast, married fathers who were not employed spent 6.3 hours doing leisure activities, and married fathers who were employed full time spent 3.7 hours.”

    By the way, you’re right to point out that time spent with children *could* be desirable to some people, but so could time spent working at the job, or even housework (I often enjoy nothing more than cooking an elaborate meal when I have the time, but that gets counted as unpaid labor).

    Maybe one criterion of gender equity could be both partners getting to spent as much time doing what they like to do, and not like to do, in the day (ignoring the intensity of those preferences for the moment).

    The his leisure vs. her leisure comparison is a good starting point, but we should also pay more attention to the desirability of time spent in different unpaid tasks.

  5. Pingback: Inequality of time: can we measure it? | Inequalities

  6. Pingback: Date Night Challenge: Julia Child’s Boef a la Mode — Danielle Hatfield

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