One of the staple feminist claims heard every
March during International
Women's Day and Women's History Month is that "women
do the work of the world." This myth was
publicized by the United Nations during the 1970s ("Women
constitute one half of the world's population [and] do
two-thirds of the world's work") and reinforced in 1995 with the
release of its
"Human Development Report" and the presentation of the report at
the UN International Women's Conference in Beijing. The
report's claim that women do more work than men was reported
widely and uncritically by the US media with headlines such as
"It's Official: Women Do Work Harder" and "A Woman's Work is
To judge who does "the work of the world" in a world of over six
billion people is a gargantuan task, but let's begin by
asking two questions:
Who works the most hours (inside or outside the home) in the
average family unit worldwide?
Who does the most demanding and dangerous work?
second question is much easier to answer than the first, so
let's start there. According to the International Labor
Organization, an estimated 1.1 million workers are killed in
industrial accidents each year, exceeding the number killed from
war, violence, road accidents and AIDS.
These accidents occur primarily in mining, logging, heavy
agricultural labor, construction, fishing, heavy manufacturing
and various other overwhelmingly male jobs. The ILO estimates
that 600,000 lives would be saved every year if available safety
practices were used. The ILO also estimates that there are
approximately 250 million victims of occupational accidents and
160 million victims of occupational diseases each year. The ILO
doesn't keep figures by gender, but in countries where such figures are available
(such as South Africa, England, Australia and Canada), the fatalities
and serious injuries are usually over 90 percent male.
The gender breakdowns in the U.S. are little different.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were over 125
million workplace injuries in the United States between 1976 and
1999. Nearly 100,000 American workers died from
job-related injuries over the past decade and a half, 95% of
them men. Of the 25 most dangerous
jobs listed by the U.S. Department of Labor, all of them are
between 90 percent and 100 percent male. According to the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration, more than three
million workers a year are treated in hospital emergency rooms
for occupational injuries and nearly 50 American workers are
injured every minute of the 40-hour work week. On average, every
working day 25 workers die, 24 of them male.
there is no doubt that the most dangerous and demanding jobs are
done by men, in most if not virtually every society, and that
men shoulder the burden of dangerous labor in the U.S. Let's
consider the other question: Who works the most hours (inside or
outside the home) in the average family unit worldwide? It's a
much harder question to answer but, as best as can be told, the
average man is doing at least as much as the average woman is.
As men's issues author Warren Farrell explained in his 1999 book
Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say, the U.N.
report upon which most claims of "women work more" are based was deeply flawed. In fact, U.N. official Terry McKinley
admitted in February, 1996 that the U.N. misrepresented the study in
several important ways. For one, the information provided by the
U.N. to the press only applied to countries where women were
found to work more hours than men; the countries where men were
found to work more hours than women were deliberately excluded.
when the data provided by researchers in some countries
(including the U.S.) did not fit the U.N.'s intention to show
that women "do more," researchers were asked in a
private communication to amend their studies. Researchers were
asked to include women's voluntary community work as well as
hobbies in order to increase women's perceived workload.
Researchers were not asked to include these items or new ones in men's labor. As a study of men and women's labor, the
U.N. findings are worthless.
Even if one could possibly do an effective study on how
many hours the average man and woman worked inside and outside
the home worldwide, a finding that women work more hours would
not mean that women work "harder" or "more" because
such a study would still not account for the more difficult and
dangerous nature of men's work.
Feminists have made similar claims of "women
do more" in relation to the division of labor in the United
idea of what Farrell calls the "second shift woman and the
shiftless man" was brought into vogue in large part by UC
Berkeley professor Arlie Hochschild's best-selling 1989 book
The Second Shift. In it she wrote (and the media
uncritically repeated) "women work an extra month of 24 hour
days each year."
as Farrell notes, Hochschild
arrived at her "women do more" conclusion through a variety of
disreputable gimmicks. For one, she compared
the housework burdens of full-time employed males with those of
part-time employed females, portraying men working 50 hour weeks
as lazy and selfish for not doing as much housework as their
wives who were working a 20 hour week. Also, she claimed that
men did no more housework in the late 1980s than in the
pre-feminist era, but, with one minor exception, she used data
on male housework from studies done in the pre-feminist
era, rendering it worthless. In addition, she also defined
"housework" to include chores usually done by women, ignoring
many of the household tasks generally performed by men.
In reality, objective,
scientifically credible studies have shown that American women
are not working more or harder than men. For
example, the U.N.'s survey on the United States showed that
American men work three more hours a week on average than
American women. The Journal of Economic
Literature reports that the average man works five hours
more, and a study released
last year by the
University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, the
world's largest academic survey and research organization,
put the disparity at three more male hours per week.
In addition, these surveys (both the serious ones and the
feminist advocacy ones) count only hours worked. A man doing eight
hours of dangerous construction work in the 100-degree heat is
credited with no more "work" than a woman who works in an
air-conditioned office or who, in the comfort and safety of her
own home (and without a supervisor breathing down her neck),
cooks breakfast, takes the kids to school, packs her husband's
lunch and folds the laundry while chatting on the phone.
Nevertheless, as Farrell notes, negative references to men and
housework litter our popular culture. "The Myth of Male
Housework: For Women, Toil Looms From Sun to Sun" was a headline
in one major publication, over a cartoon depicting a woman
juggling (and struggling) with a baby, a roasted turkey, and a
house pet, while her husband watches TV and "juggles" his beer
and his potato chips. Other major publications have highlighted
women's alleged burdens under headlines such as "For Women,
Having It All May Mean Doing It All," and "The Trouble with
Men," with one even commenting, "A woman's work is never done, a
man is drunk from sun to sun."
Feminists are correct to be concerned about the plight of the
women in the underdeveloped nations of the world. Their error is
that they blame men. The enemy of most of the women of the
world is not the man who works hard to provide for his wife and
but instead the grinding poverty that wreaks devastation on everybody:
men, women and children.
Glenn Sacks is a men's and fathers' issues columnist and
radio talk show host. His columns have appeared in dozens of
America's largest newspapers. To learn more about his radio
show, go to
His Side with Glenn Sacks. Glenn can be reached via his
GlennSacks.com, or at