Chore division is a question of perception

June 28, 2005|By SUSAN REIMER

A RECENT study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family shows that men do more housework than their wives give them credit for, and women actually do less than they think.

The study also showed that men overestimate the amount of time their wives spend on household chores, suggesting either a genuine awareness of how much she does, or a complete capitulation to her claims and complaints.

This can be dangerous information in the hands of the wrong person, if you know what I mean.

The study was conducted by Linda J. Waite at the University of Chicago and Yun-Suk Lee of the University of Seoul.

They worked with data from 265 couples who had at least one child between the ages of 5 and 18. The data included answers to survey questions about what they thought to be true and time-use logs, for which they were beeped every two hours to record their activities.

The study included a broader range of household tasks than is usually included in these time-use studies: cleaning, laundry, cooking, doing dishes, shopping for groceries and household items, child care, emotional labor (giving encouragement or advice), mental labor (planning and financial matters), yard work and repairs.

In fact, the study included everything except driving, for some quirky statistical reason related to the sample. (I wish it had. I bet driving the car pool would put women way over the top.)

Women estimated that they do 26 hours of housework a week, while men guessed they did 25. The truth is, they do about 24 hours of chores every week.

Women guessed that men did 13 hours of housework a week, men guessed they did 18. The truth is, they do 15.

Women estimated that men do 33 percent of the chores, when in fact men do about 39 percent.

Oddly, women guessed they did about 42 percent of the housework, when, in fact, it is more than 60 percent.

The study identifies what may be the biggest source of conflict in family life - the division of housework - and we can see why. Women perceive that they do 13 more hours of housework per week than their husbands do, while the husbands see the gap as only half that large.

"These different perceptions of each spouse's contribution may lead to marital conflict, regardless of the actual amount of time that husbands and wives allocated to household labor," the researchers wrote.

The study points up other differences.

Men work about 48.5 hours a week, while women work an average of 37.5. But it would be tough for the man to devote that much time to work if the woman were not picking up the slack at home. And women do perform more tasks at home than men, even if they are working.

Waite, who is traveling abroad at the time of this writing, told reporters, "If you take a long view and say, `We're all supporting the family,' you can see that equilibrium exists."

It is a nice idea, but one that's hard to hold onto when it is hot, you are getting home late to a thawing steak, the kids are cranky, the house is a wreck. ...

And he's still at the office.

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