Housework: Hope for Men, No Thanks for Women

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In married households, men now do more around the house than their wives give them credit for, according to a survey reported in the Journal of Marriage and Family. Researchers say the data also show that women do more work overall.


Now a story about what may be a new species of human male. Dividing up the housework can be a source of constant tension in a marriage. Who does what, and who does more? A new study may add grist to that ongoing argument. It finds that, men, you are right; you do more than she gives you credit for. And, yes, wives, you do more housework than your husbands but not as much as you think. Sociology Professor Linda Waite of the University of Chicago co-authored the survey, which is in this month's Journal of Marriage and Family. And she joins us now.


Professor LINDA WAITE (University of Chicago): Hi, Jennifer.

LUDDEN: You surveyed 265 couples who had children.

Prof. WAITE: Right.

LUDDEN: Would you explain to me, how did you carry this out? How'd you get beyond what people think they do and calculate what they actually do?

Prof. WAITE: Well, we gave survey questionnaires to both the husband and the wife and asked them to estimate how much time they spent doing the laundry and doing the yard work and home maintenance. And then we asked them to estimate how much time their spouse spent. Then we gave each member of the family a beeper watch that was programmed to go off eight times a day for a week. And when they were beeped, they filled out a log that asked them where they were, what they were doing, what they were thinking about.

LUDDEN: Now for the men, their wives had guessed that they did 33 percent of the housework around the house. Men should be pretty pleased with what you found they actually do.

Prof. WAITE: Right. Both women and men substantially overestimate the amount of time that women spent on housework. And wives think they do a bigger share than the beeper-watch measures suggest that they do.

LUDDEN: So men think their wives actually do more than their wives do.

Prof. WAITE: By quite a bit.


Prof. WAITE: Yes.

LUDDEN: OK. Let's make clear wives still do most of the housework.

Prof. WAITE: Right.

LUDDEN: But why do they think they do even more than they actually do?

Prof. WAITE: Well, people notice what they do, but some of the stuff that people do is invisible to their spouse because they're alone when they do it, and maybe it's something that doesn't show. You know, wives do more of the cooking, which is no surprise, and more of the cleaning up and doing dishes. And all of those--a lot of those take place when other families are around.

LUDDEN: So they get more credit because other people see them doing the work.

Prof. WAITE: Right. And they know how ...(unintelligible).

LUDDEN: No one follows Dad into the garage.

Prof. WAITE: There's a hot meal on the table, and, you know, you're appreciative.

LUDDEN: Don't you wonder, though, if the people that you studied kind of cheated once they had those watches on their wrists? I mean, weren't the men more likely to just run and get that laundry than they normally would do?

Prof. WAITE: (Laughs) No, no, no, no. I don't--I think not because, first of all, nobody had any idea we were going to do--measure how much time they spent doing laundry. Now it could be that when two people are doing exactly the same, that men are more likely to say that they're talking to their wife, and wives are more likely to say they're making breakfast. And we actually saw--in just one of the cases we looked at, we saw an incident that a couple was sitting in a kitchen, and the man said he was having a cup of coffee and talking to his wife, and the woman said she was making lunches and getting breakfast and--probably true.

LUDDEN: Linda Waite is the co-author of a study on the division of housework in this month's Journal of Marriage and Family.

Thank you.

Prof. WAITE: Thank you.

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