That Housework Study

On Feministing, there’s a very long comment thread about a new study that shows once again that not only do British women do less housework than men, but also women do more housework when they begin cohabiting while men do less. Commenter Soullite suggests a way to doubt the study, but inadvertently reinforces its point.

Second, it’s apparent when you dig into the polls that the difference in housework is negated by the difference in work outside of the house. To argue that men should both work more than women outside of the home and do equal work to women in the home is awfully convenient. This is why the same study found that women had more leisure time despite working more often at home.

Also, despite whehter all families need to do yard work, or shovel snow or service vehicles, these activities should clearly be defined as household upkeep and as such should have been included in any study measuring that or it will skew the numbers no matter how slightly.(…)

It’s finding that men and women do equal “work” even if it’s not equal “housework”.

First, false consciousness arguments are generally too embarrassing to be for public consumption. If a man who changes the oil in his car doesn’t consider that any kind of work – household, maintenance, or whatever – it’s not work.

More importantly, the fact that men and women do equal work is well established. An old study from the 1980s reported in every recent Human Development Report shows that in developed countries, men and women do about the same amount of work, but men spend two thirds of their working hours in market-based activities while women spend only one third. The main problem is that those women not only don’t get paid but typically perform work far below their skill level.

Housework is like any other non-unionized skilled work. Some people clean homes; others work at Wal-Mart. It’s possible to overblow what “housework” exactly means and how it should be remunerated – this study is a good example – but the wage of a maid is a good yardstick that measures the substitution effect. The housework men do is incidentally more expensive on a per hour basis by that measure, not because it’s more skilled but because repairmen tend to be unionized while maids suffer from the effect of depreciation of female labor.

The study says cohabiting women do 15 hours of household labor a week in Britain compared with 5 for men (incidentally, other studies tend to get similar ratios but higher numbers). Assuming a female maid makes minimum wage, i.e. £5.35/hour (PPP$8/hour) and a male who performs all the household activities a man does makes half again as much, we get that the woman’s household labor adds £80/week to the combined income pool, while the man’s adds £40/week. So far, so good.

But in terms of who actually gets to keep the money, this isn’t good at all. Although the woman’s household labor saves the household £80/week, in terms of control of the money, her share is proportional to her market income. Even a housewife who gets to spend the family’s money has no real control of the money, since she is consistently dependent on her husband’s charity, which can be withdrawn at any moment.

In case of separation or divorce, even if she gets part of the money, she won’t have any income of her own. If the couple has children she might see some child support, but child support is set at the levels that support the children, not the whole family.

Reagan wasn’t quite right when he said people who depended on government can’t be free. The government tends to be the least demanding money giver, at least in developed countries other than the US, whose TANF system is designed to humiliate. A husband may temporarily love his wife, but that love can disappear without any prior warning, and with no income of her own, the woman will typically be plunged into poverty.

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8 Responses to That Housework Study

  1. rmb says:

    It’s not just a matter of control of money, it’s also a matter of status and dignity. Housework is unpaid and low-status (and also located in the private, rather than the public sphere). More to the point, you have a setup in which one party’s contribution to the household is playing servant to the other parties. That’s degrading, especially when the relationship of the parties is supposed to be emotional, rather than strictly financial.

  2. muppt says:

    somebody has to do the housework, until robot nannies become popular.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    Well, it’s a fairly inherent feature of domestic labor. I mean, it could plausibly be reversed in certain situations, but still, in a modern capitalist economy, working outside home confers psychological and economic independence that household labor never does.

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