Media Reaction to New Housework Study Minimizes Men’s Work

By Jeffery M. Leving and Glenn Sacks

CNN says “Report: Men still not pulling weight on chores.” Major newspaper headlines include: “Home equity? Men are doing more chores, but women still do most,” “Men still slack off, but not as much,” and “Men do more housework, but not yet a fair share.” Several hundred newspapers and media outlets are covering a new Council on Contemporary Families report on men and housework. The message is clear—yes, men have improved a little, but they still don’t do enough, and women are still getting a raw deal.

This is a terribly unfair distortion because it disregards the fact that men are usually their families’ primary breadwinners, and often make great sacrifices in that role. Studies which account for the total amount of work that husbands and wives contribute to their households—including housework, child care, and employment—confirm that men contribute at least as much to their families as women do.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2004 Time Use Survey, men spend one and a half times as many hours working as women do, and full–time employed men still work significantly more hours than full–time employed women. Census data shows that a quarter of married women with children under 18 do not hold a job outside the home, and less than half work full time.

A 2002 University of Michigan Institute for Social Research survey found that women do 11 more hours of housework a week than men but men work 14 hours a week more than women. According to the BLS, men’s total time at leisure, sleeping, doing personal care activities, or socializing is a statistically meaningless 1% higher than women’s. The Families and Work Institute in New York City found that fathers now provide three–fourths as much child care as mothers do—50% more than 30 years ago.

Yet even these studies understate men’s contributions because they only count the hours devoted to a task without measuring the physical strain and/or danger associated with it. A man doing eight hours of dangerous construction work in the 95–degree heat is credited with no more “work” than a woman who works in an air–conditioned office. A man driving a truck, taxi or heavy equipment under hazardous conditions is equated with a woman caring for her children or making dinner in the comfort and safety of her own home.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, more than three million workers a year are treated in hospital emergency rooms for occupational injuries—the vast majority of them suffered by men. Nearly 100,000 American workers have 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 International Labor Organization, 100,000 Americans die of work–related diseases every year, again overwhelmingly male.

It is true that work outside the home is often more interesting than work done in the home. Yet it is also true that work done in the home—particularly time spent with one’s children when they are young—is often more satisfying than wage work.

The Associated Press does concede that “The average dad has gradually been getting better about picking himself up off the sofa and pitching in.” Yet from the article’s tone and accompanying headlines one might well miss its central topic—the Council on Contemporary Families’ research found that the amount of housework men do has doubled and the childcare fathers provide has tripled over the past four decades. Moreover, men have accomplished this in an era where the average workweek has significantly expanded.

The report also notes the strong linkage between the amount of hours a woman spends on the job and the amount of childcare and housework her husband does.

Nevertheless, what men do is still not enough. Carol Evans, founder and CEO of Working Mother magazine, told the AP, “[Women] haven’t quite gotten to equality in any sense that a woman would say, ‘Wow, that’s equal.’” Men work the longest hours at the most dangerous and demanding jobs, while still managing to contribute significantly at home. How exactly is this unfair to women?

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