Workplaces May Create Inequalities at Home

Image by Photophilde via Flickr CC
Image by Photophilde via Flickr CC

A new study finds that men and women increasingly desire egalitarian relationships, yet household labor often remains gendered and imbalanced. So what’s the holdup? Study co-author, sociologist Sarah Thébaud, explains to USA Today that workplace policies surrounding paid leave, flexible scheduling, and child care are making it harder for couples to balance household work:

“There is a lot of research showing that, in today’s economy, it is tremendously challenging for couples to strike an egalitarian division between work and family responsibilities. … Women who ‘opt out’ of full-time careers often report doing so not because it was their ideal preference, but because the inflexibility of their work hours or the high costs of childcare left them with few options. This limited set of options ends up reinforcing gender inequality, despite the fact that people are increasingly endorsing more gender-egalitarian attitudes and beliefs.”

Co-author David Pedulla adds that women, especially, need supportive workplace policies:

“[If] supportive policies are in place, women are much more likely to prefer egalitarian relationships and much less likely to prefer neo-traditional relationships.”

The study is based on a 2012 survey of a representative group of 18 to 32-year-old unmarried, childless men and women in the United States.

Halfway There

Photo by Jeremy Richardson, via flickr.com.
Photo by Jeremy Richardson, via flickr.com.

In light of recent media buzz over research on how much sex husbands may or may not be “getting” for helping with the housework, the question of an equal-gender split of chores is back on the table (or maybe just stuffed it behind some bills and takeout menus on the counter).

Academic work on this topic often wanders into big, macro-level thinking about gender roles and social structures, but a recent article in The Atlantic pushes us to think about this issue in terms of the small, everyday choices that make home better for everyone. Alexandra Bradner outlines the problem for heterosexual families:

Because no one can afford to fully replace themselves at home while they are at the office… working mothers have famously picked up the slack for both partners, subsidizing our market with their free labor… this means that mothers are important, in all of the ways in which socially conservative forces routinely note. But it could also mean that [they] are exploited… to do more than their fair share of the family’s work, all without compensation.

Bradner offers three possible explanations for this problem:

  1. Men don’t see the work that needs to be done
  2. Men see what needs to be done, but don’t think they can do it as easily or effectively as their wives can
  3. Men’s workplace structures won’t let them take the extra time to do their share of the chores

Instead of arguing for a large-scale overhaul of “women’s responsibilities” or workplace regulations, Bradner addresses all three issues with one simple suggestion: Men should ask their partners, “Do I do half the laundry? Do I change half the diapers?” Then, couples can make conscious choices about work distribution.

When husbands and colleagues come through with these “small acts of heroism,” splitting the work, Bradner, agues we get closer to a society that cares about caring for people:

It’s not, exclusively, a conversation for and among women. This is a conversation about families and about babies and their care, which makes it a conversation about kindness, responsiveness, and our nation’s collective future.

“Womanly” at Work, “Manly” at Home

Men in women-dominated careers do more "manly" housework than other men, a new study finds. Photo by comedy_nose via flickr.com

Men who work in majority-female professions—say, as nurses or as kindergarten teachers—don’t also take on more traditionally “womanly” tasks at home, according to new research in the American Journal of Sociology.

Husbands working in “gender deviant” fields actually put in more hours on “manly” chores when they’re off the clock, study author and Princeton University doctoral student Daniel Schneider found, when compared with men who work in more gender-balanced fields. “They putter around with the cars, take care of the yard, fix things around the house—you know, guy stuff,” wrote Bonnie Rochman, covering the study in Time.

Schneider found that the wives of these men also put in more time on typical women’s housework such as cooking and cleaning.

“It’s counterintuitive in a sense,” Schneider told Time. “Maybe what we’re seeing here is that men who are gender-deviant in the market are doing compensatory action at home by doing more typically male chores.”

Schneider’s AJS study looked at heterosexual couples in the U.S., using census data to calculate which occupations were predominantly female and information on individuals’ occupations and time spent on housework from the National Survey of Families and Households and the American Time Use Survey.