Equal division of labor missing in many dual-career families

Working woman CbB

February 17, 1992|By Carol Kleiman | Carol Kleiman,Chicago Tribune

Most people believe that men in the nation's 13.7 million two-career families are doing more housework.

But the overall distribution of labor hasn't changed -- and it impedes women's career progress, said Charles Rodgers, principal in the Boston-based consulting firm of Work/Family Directions.

"Women who are full-time workers still spend twice as much time as their husbands on household and child-care tasks," said Mr. Rodgers, a labor economist and former bank vice president.

This inequality on the home front is serious, he said, because it "gets to the heart of balancing work and family and impacts on productivity and career advancement."

The consultant's firm recently studied 25,000 professional employees at 15 major U.S. corporations who were asked to log the hours of housework they perform weekly.

The findings: Working mothers averaged 44 hours on the job and 31 hours on housework.

Working fathers spent 47 hours on the job and only 15 around the house.

Men in manufacturing jobs do the most at home, the study shows: In blue-collar families, men averaged 44 hours on the job but put in 24 hours in child care and housework.

Another finding: Labor is divided more equally before children arrive. "Before children are born, women work 44 hours at their jobs and men only 41 hours," said Mr. Rodgers. "After children, women remain at 44 hours, but men move up to 47."

The study suggests that men move more quickly on their career paths because women "cover" for them at home. "Almost two-thirds of men with children under the age of 13 had wives who were not in the labor force," Mr. Rodgers noted. "Virtually none of the women had that same advantage: 77 percent of the women were in dual-career families and 16 percent were single heads of households."

The housework men do is broken down along gender lines, Mr. Rodgers said, with men doing traditional tasks such as repairs and car and lawn maintenance.

But Mr. Rodgers, whose wife, Francene, is president of Work/Family Directions, said things are somewhat different at his house.

"When we first were married, our housework tasks were divided fairly traditionally," he said. "I'm not much of a cook -- though I am proud of my angel food cake -- but I'm quite good at cleaning."

After the Rodgers' children were born -- they're now 10 and 13 -- he worked at a child-care center. "I spent a great deal of time with my daughters, and I had a lot more cleaning up to do, too," he said. "Their schedules and appointments fell on my wife."

Because men generally are more "insulated" from balancing work and family, flexible working hours are far more important to working mothers who want to be successful professionals, Mr. Rodgers said.

"The very tool women need to be productive employees -- flexible hours at work -- works against them in terms of their careers," he said.

"Women can't compete on a level playing field with men at the workplace when a key requirement is their physical presence there for longer and longer hours."

Patricia Voydanoff, director of the Center for the Study of Family Development at the University of Dayton, said she and her husband, who have two children, started sharing cooking duties 20 years ago.

"He likes to cook outdoors, so his idea of cooking was fixing the meat," said Dr. Voydanoff, who has a doctorate in sociology from Wayne State University in Detroit. "Salads and vegetables weren't part of his conception of dinner. But now he understands and does more around the house than I do because I'm working full time and he's working part time."

Change in the distribution of labor at home is slow because "women are considered supplementary wage earners and therefore have the major responsibility for housework," Dr. Voydanoff said. "Before changes will come in the housework, we need pay equity and the recognition that women's work outside the home is as important as men's."

The advantages reaped by women with children who have a cooperative spouse is evident in the career of Michele L. Bochnak, field promotion manager for Procter & Gamble Co. in the Chicago suburb of Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.

Ms. Bochnak and her husband have three children, and when she was offered an important transfer to Connecticut, he went with her and stayed at home for nine months "to get the family adjusted."

Because her husband was at home, Ms. Bochnak was free to travel, an important part of her job at the time.

"He made it possible for me to move ahead," she said. "Dividing the homework frees up both people's time and strengthens their relationship -- if each holds up the bargain."

But Heidi Hartmann, an economist who heads the Institute of Women's Policy Research, thinks the fact that women do most of the work at home will be difficult to change because it's a reflection of power politics.

"There's a connection between the work women do at home and the lack of respect and low-paying jobs they get in the work force," she said. "Both in the household and in the labor market, the division of labor by gender tends to benefit men."

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