When I married my husband, I envisioned an egalitarian utopia. My spouse and I would split all the chores 50/50; to heck with society’s gender expectations!
I don’t even know where that vision came from. My mom was fairly traditional, even though she worked part-time. I don’t remember seeing my dad regularly cook or clean until he retired a few years ago.
In my marriage, there have been too many arguments over whose turn it is to empty the dishwasher or take out the trash. Now that we have kids, there is always too much work to do and too little time.
Matters became more complicated when I decided to stay home with the kids and work freelance. Having a flexible schedule and bringing home a smaller paycheck left me as the “default parent” and responsible for most household activities.
Vacuuming or dusting seem like silly things to fight over, but in a 2007 Pew Research Poll, 62 percent of adults said that sharing household chores is very important to marital success.
This debate dates back to the start of feminism, and has only intensified as more women work outside the home. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, immediately following World War II, less than one-third of women were in the labor force. By 2012, 57.7 percent of women were working.
Women are contributing more to the household budget as well. In 2011, 53 percent of married-couple families had earnings from both the wife and the husband – up from 44 percent in 1967.
Yet, women still spend considerably more time on household chores than men. According to data from the 2013 American Time Use Survey, women spend an average of 2 hours and 13 minutes on household activities each day, while men spend just 1 hour and 21 minutes. On an average day, 49 percent of women do housework like cleaning or laundry, compared to 19 percent of men.
This clearly isn’t fair. But what is the right way to split household duties?
A 2012 study done in Norway debunked my idea of the 50/50 split, finding that couples who split housework evenly were more likely to divorce. I guess now I can feel better about not achieving that ideal.
Some have suggested dividing chores based on interests or strengths. Pam Farrel, co-author of Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti, recommends that responsibility for chores be assigned to the person who is “most passionate” about the task. In my household, it would be an interesting brawl to see who is more passionate about the trash.
Some of my friends have complicated calendars with assignments, dinner duties, childcare responsibilities, etc. This appeals to my anal-retentive personality, but let’s face it, putting together that calendar is another chore.
Perhaps the best advice I’ve run across was from a piece in the Atlantic by Noah Berlatsky: “Housework isn’t a debt wives owe to husbands, nor one husbands owe to wives…. We’re married, so we help each other. And the helping isn’t to protect the marriage, or to keep the people in the marriage happy. The helping is the marriage itself.”
It’s not a simple answer, but I think it is pretty close to the right one.
And now I have some dishes to wash.
Sara Lang has worked in North Carolina politics at the state, federal, and local levels for more than 15 years. A communications consultant, she lives in Cary with her husband, two young children, and a pampered dog.