Archive for Saturday, November 4, 2006

Men do more; women still lead

November 4, 2006


So, some good news: Men are more engaged in child care and housework than their fathers, according to the comprehensive study "Changing Rhythms of American Family Life."

Then again, their fathers spent 2.6 hours weekly on child care in 1965, less time than it took to see "The Sound of Music."

Men are contributing more housework, too, 9.7 hours weekly in 2000 compared with 4.4 hours back in 1965, much of that behind a mower or grill.

This is great. At this pace, by 2035, men will devote 20 hours weekly to housework, having finally understood that there's no greater aphrodisiac known to women than fresh, folded laundry with a top note of Bounce.

Women still do more of everything, almost 13 hours on child care - 2.3 hours more than women in 1965 - and 19.4 hours on housework, which is 17.2 hours too much.

Yet this represents a seismic improvement. "If you just look at housework, you wonder why would women stay with men; they're such shirkers," says sociologist Suzanne M. Bianchi, an author of the study. "But when you put in child care and the work they do to provide for the family, you see that men are doing their fair load."

In the past, parents saw their private lives as bifurcated, time with the children and without, and had the cocktail clothes to prove it. Playing with children was frequently relegated to the home, a ballgame, a summer vacation. Now, children are incorporated into more aspects of their family lives.

"We know that women's lives have changed, but we wanted to know did men change at all," Bianchi says. "It looks like they are changing, not as rapidly as some people might like, but there's definitely an uptick in a father's time invested in child care."

The University of Maryland sociologists authoring the study offer several reasons for the cultural shift: fewer children, older parents with larger incomes, greater emphasis on the family, increased concerns about crime and safety.

About delaying babies: Mothers may feel momentarily brilliant for delaying children until their careers are established, but it can all vanish in an instant. That instant, of course, is when your child crashes head-first into puberty.


Then you will discover that, far from being an Einstein, a future MacArthur winner, you are a complete and utter fool. Unwittingly, you have simultaneously scheduled adolescence and middle age, life's two glorious passages, to coexist in a single household, therefore providing more drama, memory loss and hormones than may be deemed healthy or legal.

So, it's wise that we've cut down on housework. "Something had to give," Bianchi says. "The time had to come from somewhere."

Our mothers spent 34.5 hours on housework in 1965, a full-time job with no benefits devoted to the Sisyphean task of eliminating dust, ironing shirts, and creating quaint casseroles, thereby presaging the women's movement, casual clothing and takeout, miracles all. Today, we've reduced housework to 19.4 hours. If the trend continues, we'll be down to 3.3 hours by 2035.

Women employed outside the home have less free time than any group, like they needed a study to tell us this. We average 71-hour workweeks, split evenly between paid and unpaid labor. Men work 65 hours weekly, three-quarters of the time at their jobs. So, there's progress here, though not parity, and the same number of arguments.

Women not employed outside the home work 52 hours a week, resulting in a savings of 19 hours, while avoiding panty hose, numbing meetings and rush-hour traffic. This explains why there may be mommy skirmishes, if not full-out wars. All women work, but women employed outside the home are jealous and tired, and just want those 19 hours back.

- Karen Heller is a columnist for Philadelphia Inquirer. Her e-mail address is


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