“The Case for Filth” is the fun title of a NYT opinion piece by Stephen Marche, writer for Esquire and author, who takes a look at the discrepancy between the amount of housework done among well-educated, egalitarian-minded husbands and wives. Marche references a 2015 study done by the Council on Contemporary Families, which looks at housework, gender, and parenthood patterns between 1965 and 2012. Here are some of their findings:
- Gender is still the most influential determinant of who does housework and childcare today despite the increases in mothers’ employment and the expressed desire of the majority of women and men to share employment and caregiving responsibilities.
- Data from 1965 to 2012 shows that women’s and men’s housework and child care are much more similar today achieved through
- Steep reduction in women’s housework and modest increase in men’s housework
- Both mothers and fathers have increased time caring for children
- Still substantial gender differences in time and kind of activities spent in child care time and activities
- Gender differences persist; why not more change?
- Still have entrenched individual and cultural beliefs about the “essential” qualities of being a woman versus being a man. Do women spend more time cleaning and doing laundry because of gender expectations about appearance and femininity? Do women get caught up in cult of domesticity? For Marche being “fetish” about domestic life is the macho equivalent for women
- Is it related to gender inequities in earnings? Some household activities can be outsourced by eating out and using dry cleaners. Outsourcing may be more difficult for single women who earn about 80 cents for every dollar a single man earns.
- An interesting finding is that in some countries, women who make more money than their husbands tend to do more housework. Sociologists say this can be an effort to reduce so called “gender deviance” created when men and women have gender atypical occupations and earnings.
Marriage should be equal. And, there is lots of advice about splitting the housework to create equality, much of which is useless. Advice about how to split up the housework relies too much on being “fair” requiring some kind of objective evaluation of who does what. What this approach fails to appreciate is the perception of effort in doing such tasks. Whatever task I am doing, I am aware of the actual work done and I am more aware of the effort it takes me to do the job. Effort is perceptual, not objective.
In addition, trying to be objective about doing tasks propels you into an “exchange” approach to housework; you are in some kind of transaction with each other. This doesn’t work because exchange transactions are based on maximizing one’s self-interest not about tending to your relationship.
The HIP Marriage
Mothers and fathers have a new cultural norm about marriage and parenting that Richard Reeves calls the HIP marriage, i.e. high investment parenting marriage. Parenthood has become associated with a gendered division of housework even among couples who maintained relatively egalitarian patterns before the birth of a child. When the first child is born:
- Father’s increase their paid work time and decrease housework
- Mothers decrease their paid work time and increase housework
While fathers today feel that children are entitled to men’s close attention and time, mothers are still held accountable to standards of intensive parenting more than father are. All parents are working longer hours in paid work, housework, and child care; they are pulled between work and family.
- As Stephen Marche says, do less and care less about tidiness: leave the stairs untidy, don’t make the beds, don’t repaint the peeling ceilings, dishes can wait, etc.
- Outsource what household tasks you can
- Don’t let housework continue to be a feminist issue; remember house work is not something wives owe to husbands
- Housework and taking care of children is the daily stuff of which the relationship is made. You are married to help each other; helping each other the marriage
- Work toward changing workplaces that value long work hours and value work over family
- Because paternal leave is so stigmatized, create your own “Daddy Quota” (say on Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon) when Daddy is solo and in charge.
Achieving and maintaining gender equality in household tasks and child care is not going to be easy. Most couples fall into unequal patterns without their conscious intention or awareness. Successful egalitarian couples are vigilant and proactive in decision making BEFORE and AFTER the baby is born. Keep in mind the kind of life you really want together.
Noah Berlatsky. “Spouses Probably Shouldn’t Try to Split Household Tasks Exactly Evenly.” The Atlantic. March 19. 2013. (http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/03/spouses-probably-shouldnt-try-to-split-household-tasks-exactly-evenly/274133/)
Stephen Marche. “The Case for Filth.” New York Times. December 7, 2013. (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/08/opinion/sunday/the-case-for-filth.html?_r=0)
Richard Reeves. “How to Save Marriage in America.” the Atlantic.” February 13, 2014. (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/02/how-to-save-marriage-in-america/283732/)
Llana Sayer. “The Complexities of Interpreting Changing Household Patterns.” (https://contemporaryfamilies.org/complexities-brief-report/)
Brigid Schulte. “After the Baby: Dads Do Less at Home.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2015/05/07/once-the-baby-comes-moms-do-more-dads-do-less-around-the-house/)