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Housework: Leave It To...Whom?
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February 22, 2013
Classic TV shows of the 1950s and 1960s like "Leave it to Beaver" and "Father Knows Best," provided a lens through which the gender dynamics of most American households could be viewed. When it came to housework-on television and in reality-housework was seen as a 'woman's job.'
While women now comprise a larger percentage of the workforce than previous generations, studies show that women are still doing the majority of work in the home-while also balancing their paid work hours. In the late 1980s, author Arlie Hochschild called this the second shift.
University of Maryland, College Park sociology professors Dr. John P. Robinson and Dr. Melissa Milkie have been studying the gender division of housework for several decades. Robinson said that in the 1960s women's contribution to housework and childcare was 80-85 percent, now it's around 65 percent. A notable change, but still not equal.
"Women are [still] doing about six times as much as men," Robinson said.
That shift in percentage occurred between the 1960s and 1990s, but Robinson said men's time spent in housework in childcare has not increased.
"We call this the 'stalled revolution.' Not much has changed since about the mid-1990s," Robinson said.
What has changed are attitudes and gender expectations. Milkie said that women may be putting more thought into whether a possible spouse is comfortable and is willing to do housework.
"I think there is more selectivity. I think the younger generation definitely expects more from men, and the women may be willing to put up with less than in the past," Milkie said. "This is important to a lot of people because they realize women want careers, and they need men to be on board with contributing in all the arenas."
Robinson said in his years of studying housework, one of the things that has surprised him the most is that men are doing more childcare-oriented tasks. Robinson said when rating male and female participants in which types of housework they enjoy, one responsibility often tops the list.
"In general, childcare was on the top of the list. Other housework, not so much."
Milkie said women are spending more time in child care than they were in the 1970s, but they are reducing their amount of housework.
In this interview, Dr. Milkie and Dr. Robinson join Tom Hall by phone to talk about housework and childcare trends, and the larger social implications that stem from the necessary (and sometimes frustrating) household responsibilities.
Milkie and Robinson are two of the authors of "Housework: Who Did, Does or Will Do It, and How Much Does It Matter" published in the Sept. 2012 issue of the journal Social Forces.