One of my absolute favorite academic books on family politics and policy is Arlie Hochschild's The Second Shift. Hochschild and her assistants sat in the homes of families with two working parents and observed the family dynamics.
She found that after putting in a full day of work, women came home to a second shift. They took care of the kids, they made dinner, they did laundry, they vacuumed, and they made the lunches for school the next day. The men came home, sat on the sofa, and picked up the remote. Even though they had taken on the traditional male role of bread-winning, they still retained the traditional female role of housewife.
Part of what I love about this book is the unspoken conclusion of the book. As Hochschild describes tearful good-byes at the daycare center and the chaos of home life after work, she clearly feels that the long and grueling work days of the two parents have put a lot of stress on family life. As a good academic, she holds back on a full condemnation of capitalism and focuses on conclusions that can be observed, ie the balance of housework and caretaking between the spouses.
We've discussed this book and our own divisions of household responsibility quite a few times on this blog. No need to revisit those discussions. However, a new study finds that even among highly educated women and their presumably highly educated, liberal spouses (likes do tend to marry likes) that the division of labor is still out of whack.
The Chronicle of HIgher Education discusses a new study on housework and women scientists. They found that female scientists do twice as much housework as their husbands.
A new study from the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research
at Stanford University has found that female scientists do 54 percent
of their core household tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, and
laundry—about twice as much as their male counterparts. (Paid help and
children made up some of the difference.) The results reinforce the
findings of other studies. Most important, they indicate that women
often have more obligations at home and lower retention rates in their
This imbalance clearly leads to career obstacles for female scientists. You can't write papers, if you are doing the laundry.
Interestingly, the article ends not with a lecture to men to do more at home, but with a call to universities to offer benefit packages to their faculty that would enable them to hire more help at home.
86 thoughts on “Female Scientists and Housework”
You can’t write papers, if you are doing the laundry.
That’s probably true, perhaps especially for scientists, but I did a large amount of the reading, and some of the early writing (by hand on note-books) for my dissertation while sitting at the laundromat the last few years. I actually found it sort of relaxing, and a fairly easy place to work, as I wasn’t distracted by the computer and the like. (For various reasons I do essentially all the laundry for us, so I had a fair amount of time to spend at the laundromat, and it was one where I didn’t want to leave my clothes unwatched.) This isn’t to argue with the article, but just to point out that sometimes these situations are good ones in which to work.
“As a good academic, she holds back on a full condemnation of capitalism…”
Here’s a very short book for your reading list: Natalya Baranskaya’s A Week Like Any Other:
It’s a novella from the late 1960s and it’s about the travails of a Russian scientist with two kids. She’s always late to work, she’s totally behind on her professional literature, and she’s taken dozens of sick days for the kids. Oh, and they’ve got state daycare.
Here’s Baranskaya’s Olga on a Monday:
You can see her whole life in miniature in the very first page of the novella.
Matt, I’d argue that laundry at the laundromat is a very different thing from doing laundry at home. Once we got our own washer and dryer, laundry quit being a joint effort and became my duty. And that happened during grad school. Laundry for me also entails requests for certain things to be washed. Now. Also, I do the shopping and cooking, which sucks up the time from 5-7 for the cooking part and a couple of hours during the week for the shopping part (the kids and the hubby do the cleanup). During those hours, Mr. Geeky reads and works. Yes, I could dump all that and perhaps someone would pick up the slack. I don’t know.
When I read The Second Shift, our household duties were split pretty evenly. And, in fact, Mr. Geeky was at home with our first born. As careers have risen and fallen and another kid has come along, the division of labor has shifted. We’re both aware of it. Once in a while we do something about it. In theory, Mr. Geeky believes in equality, even in the household, but practically speaking, he just doesn’t care about or sometimes even see the consequences of not having food for meals or clothes washed for the week.
I bristle at the idea of universities (or other employers) supporting more paid staff at home, rather than changing their employment patterns. How tidy — it leaves the root cause of the whole mess, which is lopsided privilege, perfectly intact.
But then I think, well I do the same thing. I have spent years avoiding knock-down drag-outs with my husband by hiring a cleaning woman. I’m not sure the marriage would survive the fights any other way.
It’s unbelievably sad to me that it appears to come down, again and again, to brinksmanship. As in, until women are ready to walk out over the housework, things will not change. (The old saw about a cleaning service being cheaper than a divorce betrays the truth of that.) If you saw your wife, completely exhausted every night, doing the dishes while you watched TV, wouldn’t you feel like a terrible person? Would you really need to wait until she actually threatened to walk to change your ways?
Honestly many guys I know don’t even notice the exhaustion until the wife’s too tired for sex. Feh.
I’d argue that laundry at the laundromat is a very different thing from doing laundry at home.
Yes, I know. Where I live now there’s laundry in the building and while that’s more convenient in some ways (though less than having it in the apartment itself) it’s less conducive to getting work done, as it’s easy to get distracted (or do other house-hold work) while the laundry is going. There’s another option, though- drop-off laundry service. I used it from time to time, when I was just too busy to do it myself. My wife would sometimes complain about how they did things, and I’d suggest that she was welcome to do it herself, then, but she never wanted to. But a drop-off service is only slightly more expensive than a coin-operated machine (maybe even less than the fairly expensive machines in my building) and might be worth it to people if they figure in their time. They usually fold, too.
As long as men aren’t routinely considered responsible for the state of their homes, and women feel shame about it, women will do more of the housework.
I have no idea how to change this. It’s completely insidiously present in society.
I see no issues with hiring people to help in the house, as long as you pay them appropriately for their labor. Most people can’t really afford to do that. That’s a salary issue, not a benefits issue. And the salary issue won’t change unless a faculty member is more economically valuable than the labor that needs to be done at home.
If the work will be done by unpaid house members, it’s an issue to be negotiated within the family. I think it’s bizarre to suggest that the university should provide an benefit to a woman because her spouse (or child) won’t pick up after themselves.
In fact, though, they mention “cafeteria” benefits, which I think means picking a benefit that you prefer, and conflate that with benefits that are directly used in the workplace. The Sloan Foundation tried a short experiment along these lines — they proposed that having help at home might be more important to a woman’s ability to negotiate early child raising and lab development than having an extra post-doc/research tech in the lab, and made the funds available to have the paid help at home. I think they ended up discontinuing the program because it didn’t end up having a statistical impact on retention/success.
(Oh, and data is always interesting.)
As long as men aren’t routinely considered responsible for the state of their homes, and women feel shame about it, women will do more of the housework.
I have no idea how to change this. It’s completely insidiously present in society.
And there it is. The real issue. It’s funny because every once in a while, Mr. Geeky will make a comment about the state of something in the house. He’ll say, “We should clean up this crap.” or something like that, and it always starts with “we.” I usually go insane over these comments, which indicates to me that, for whatever reason, I feel responsible for the way things look in our house. Mr. Geeky always says that he really does mean we, but because if you did a tally, I’d have more housework points than he does, I don’t feel like it’s “we.” I try not to care. I try to say to myself that if I had an immaculate house, I’d get nothing else done and my brain would rot, but I still care and my house is far from immaculate. Sigh.
Thanks, Laura, for opening up that can of worms. 🙂
And as far as the benefit is concerned, I agree with Jen. Let’s just change the workplace structure instead. Course it’s easier to do the benefit than to convince scientists that they don’t need to work 80 hours/week.
heh, we loves to stir up trouble, Laura/Geekymom.
Hey Laura/Geekymom, I have that exact same argument with my spouse, except that I say “we have to clean up this mess” and my husband goes crazy ’cause he thinks we means “him.” I’ve been forbidden from using the “royal we.”
I was struck by this study (and intrigued by the “this is how we keep and help women in science” angle, which implies perhaps that those of us in the humanities can go hang…). I would love it if my university included this benefit as part of the flexible spending package. I’d rather use that fund for housekeeping than for commuting costs, dental costs, child care costs or any of the other things we spend money on. Here’s why:
My partner, while willing to do housework, has very little training in it. I have 20 years of household management (efficient use of funds on groceries, economic meal planning, stain removal techniques, understanding of cooking terms, which shops offer the best value on children’s clothing, etc.), under my belt. I can get more results with less time than he can. At this point in our lives, I don’t want him to do the housework, I want a professional to do it. I can’t wait 20 years for him to catch up to me.
In the meantime, I am trying to teach my son how to do things so this problem isn’t perpetuated into the next generation.
Christiana–I hear ya! I’m not the best housewife in the world, but I did have to do housework like things when I was growing up. My husband’s mother did everything for him. And cooking, forget it. I can’t give up my control there. 🙂
“practically speaking, he just doesn’t care about or sometimes even see the consequences of not having food for meals or clothes washed for the week.”
Are there husbands out there who care passionately about, say, the state of the yard or the car(s)? Do they expect their wives to put in half or nearly half of what it takes for that part of the household?
Are the consequences implied in the quotation as dire as Laura/G seems to be saying? If the guys really don’t care about the items in question, I don’t think anyone should be surprised that they resent being held responsible for them. They probably for the life of them can’t see why their better halves are getting so worked up and/or worn out about them.
Kudos to Christiana and Laura/G for touching on issues of control. Are wives prepared to accept suboptimal outcomes and a learning curve? If not, again no surprises that there’s less participation from the other side. If something has to be done her way on her schedule to meet her ideas of the outcome, then he’s not likely to be enthusiastic. (On the other hand, requests to wash things Now are not entertained.)
Maybe the article should end with a call on women to do less at home?
I know that in the “making others’ lives crappier than they need to be” stakes, the male of the species is still well in the lead, but spare a thought for men who actually do their fair share of the unpaid labour, and the barriers some women erect to make this more painful than it need be.
My wife loves the fact that I do an equal share of the work, but she doesn’t actually want an equal partner in that work. She wants me to be her loyal lieutenant, unquestioningly carrying out her orders and leaving her firmly in control of the household. She tells me how to do the grocery shopping, even tho I do almost all of it, and do it very well. She tells me how to cook pasta, even tho I’m an italian-american who’s been making baked ziti etc since i was 14, and she’s a brit who has only ever made mac-and-cheese, and who admits that in 23 years of making the same recipe, it’s never occurred to her to try to vary it. (Her mac and cheese sucks, by the way.) And most importantly of all, she tells me how to be a parent to our two-year-old, on the most minute levels, over and over again: how to push the pram, how to run the bath, how to serve breakfast, what stories to read, etc. She’s a lovely woman (and a higher earner than me, if that matters), but she’s not actually willing to concede that an equal partner deserves equal say in the running of the household, particularly re the child.
MY admittedly limited experience is that being a man who’s committed to doing lots of housework leads to less overall suffering (ie combined suffering of the man and woman) than being a traditional male, particularly one who views himself as progressive but doesn’t act on those views when it comes to doing the laundry. (Remember, Hochschild found that politically liberal middle-class so-called progressive men did less housework and childrearing than more traditionally minded working-class blokes.) But doing our fair share does open up another (lesser, I would say) set of problems.
This is a great discussion. My husband and I have struggled with this one for 15 years – and I do mean struggled.
To be honest – in a way, I lost. I do manage the majority of the home stuff (not the childcare stuff) and it does come at a cost to the amount of brain space I have for other things.
I agree with the two PPs that some of it is micromanagement on the part of the wife. However in my case I actually did let it go for a couple of years – I didn’t say anything and I only did the minimum. My husband did his minimum on his own time his own way.
The results were not pretty – our home wasn’t toxic, but it wasn’t a space in which I was happy. (My husband NEVER complains; either he doesn’t care for real, or he knows he really can’t if he’s not doing it.) We also both gained weight as the lack of meal planning, etc., turned into a lot of convenience food or takeout or last-minute-pasta.
It turns out our tolerances are widely, widely different. Oddly enough, I come from a messy home of hoarders and he comes from a decluttered neat-freak family.
I decided that if the choices were do it myself and stay married, or get divorced and do it, that I would rather stay married. I don’t mean I decided that overnight; it was a serious question. Since that time, I have concentrated my efforts on figuring out how to do the chores in the most efficient way and “stay zen” about the lines of responsibility.
So I’m part of the problem. My son does chores, but I don’t feel like he sees my husband doing them enough.
I have to say that my husband is really a good and decent person and we love each other madly and deeply. If I truly felt that he was disrespectful to me I’d be so out. But just as my work on my “personal brand” or finishing my novel is something I let go in the face of life, housework is what he lets go. It’s a tough one.
It’s not entirely fair to just tell women that they shouldn’t care so much. After all, women are judged by others for having sloppy children and a messy yard. They are under pressure to have things looking nice. When my in laws come to visit and they see a chaos of toys in the living room, who do they assume is the lazy fat ass? Surely not the beloved son.
We had more issues about the division of labor, when we were newly married. After 12 years, we’ve worked things out, after we each took on separate jobs. Steve does 90% of the laundry, cleans up after dinner, takes his shirts to the dry cleaners, and gets Ian ready for bed (Jonah is my job). He doesn’t get home until 6:30, so he doesn’t have time to do more. I do everything else — getting kids ready for school, overseeing homework and school chores, driving to activities, food shopping, dinner making, bathroom cleaning, and general tidying. General tidying is not Steve’s strong suit and even if he was home full time, he still couldn’t do it.
I understand the struggle to give up control of the house/kids to an equal partner. I definitely had a learning curve there. My mom used to lecture me that I shouldn’t get on Steve’s case for not packing up the diaper bag properly or putting Jonah in strange clothes, because he was trying. Didn’t want to dampen the poor guy’s enthusiasm, she said. But what’s the problem with taking some direction from the wife?
My wife loves the fact that I do an equal share of the work, but she doesn’t actually want an equal partner in that work.
I hated that, but it did stop. I especially hated being told how to clean the bathroom, since I’ve always been the one to clean the bathroom.
I think it’s interesting that Laura/Geekymom seems to be married to my husband.
“General tidying is not Steve’s strong suit and even if he was home full time, he still couldn’t do it.”
I’m noticing a definite trend here, that the guys aren’t that great at the big picture, but doing pretty well at discrete tasks (laundry, dishes, etc.). My husbands does dishes, 50% of “real” cooking (although more basic meal prep is at least 85% me), routine bill-paying and moving money around electronically between accounts, tax prep, Roomba maintenance, carpet steam cleaning, car maintenance (although I have lately been taking care of crushed goldfish in the back seat), major driving, minor carpentry, toy and electronic repairs, and major school projects (he and C just finished a diorama). Ever since we moved into a rental house with a garage, he’s been getting progressively handier. And we have 2X a month help for heavy cleaning. [So what do you do, Amy?–ed.] I’d add a few points here:
1. Note how a number of these items are borderline hobbies and yield a recognizable product.
2. If spouse A is doing a major household job, spouse B needs to keep the kids occupied and out of the way.
3. Yardwork is the one task that is genuinely onerous. That is obviously very hard work, and I suppose if we were wealthier, we would outsource it.
4. It’s more difficult to keep things running smoothly on vacations, etc. A routine is very helpful.
I think it’s interesting that Laura/Geekymom seems to be married to my husband.
That just seems like more trouble than it is worth. Leaving aside the whole “what if the other wife finds out” thing, it would still be too much work. Maybe I’m just old.
One thing that frustrates me about this whole dance is the role that women play in perpetuating our own, and each others’, misery. After all, when we talk about women feeling shame about their houses or being held responsible for the state of their kids’ haircuts, it’s other women who are doing the judging and muttering.
This is one area where generational differences are *huge*. Many’s the woman who feels her house looks OK until her mom or MIL come to visit. I also feel tremendous pressure from the staff at my kids’ school, many of whom are in their 50s or older.
But, truth be told, a lot of this is hard-wired into my brain by now. God forbid someone not get their lunch packed properly. I spend the whole day stressing over it, in part how it leaves the kid hungry, but much more about how it looks to the teachers and other parents.
And to Doug, my husband doesn’t care about the yard or the car or household repairs either. He basically doesn’t care much about the domestic sphere at all. He cares about his work. He cares about me and the kids. His free time, when he has it, is spent with us. So, I’m mostly okay with that, but there are consequences for it that sometimes make me unhappy because I do care. Like when I have to spend a day doing laundry instead of something leisurely or progressing on a work project (i literally used to take days off work to get housework done–it’s recorded on my blog). And I can’t just leave the laundry because I can’t send the kids to school without clothes. Because like Laura said, if they go to school in a stained shirt, the teacher isn’t going to think, wow, their dad sucks at laundry. Nope, they’re gonna think, what kind of crappy mom do you have?
It’s that judgement that I’m aware of more than the physical consequences of not having clothes or food in the house or having dirt on the floor that visitors see.
Honestly, Mr. Geeky is better at cleaning than I am. He’s responsible for cleaning the kitchen and he always does a much better job than me. When he does other areas, it’s better done than me. I won’t say that I haven’t often directed him how to do stuff. I have and he always calls me on it. I have to leave the room. 🙂 But I also think if he stepped up to the plate and just did stuff without being asked, I’d be totally willing to concede in most areas. Cooking is the one exception, just because I know for a fact I’m better at that. 🙂 And it’s a leisure activity in many ways.
I don’t know how to fix the judgement problem that obviously weighs heavily on a lot of women, which leads, I think, to the control issues. If a woman believes that they, and not their husbands, are going to be judged, then of course, they’re going to want to dictate how the chores get done. So I think we have to let of that judgement piece first, part of which is completely out of our control.
After all, women are judged by others for having sloppy children and a messy yard.
I’d guess this is the first thing they should stop caring about, much more than how their house looks to them. (As mentioned above, stopping judging others would help, too.)
I wonder if teachers know how much mothers stress about their judgment? And in my personal case I wonder how much of that perceived judgment is real, vs. how much represents my own fears and insecurities?
After all, women are judged by others for having sloppy children and a messy yard.
Yard? Really? Neither my wife nor I care about the yard or the cars, but I’m the one who gets friendly reminders when the inspection sticker/registration is out, and I’m certainly the one who gets glares and the occasional talking-to about the state of the grass/weeds/etc. And yes, I do internalize the judgement: when a neighbor “helped out” by mowing our front yard while we were at work one day, my wife saw it as a kind act, while I took it as a slap in the face.
Men are not free from gender-linked judgement — it’s just that the things we are judged on require far fewer hours of work to deal with.
when a neighbor “helped out” by mowing our front yard while we were at work one day, my wife saw it as a kind act, while I took it as a slap in the face.
Unless you are old or physically challenged, it was a slap in the face.
jen–my own fears and securities–check.
I feel even more vulnerable on this stuff with a disabled kid, because we’re so much more under the eye of mandatory reporters and so on.
The lawn is a very nice illustrative example. The lawn is a guy thing for which men are judged. Imagine, guys, if you felt that level of status-weightiness for meals, general house tidiness, lunch-packing, what the kid is wearing, whether the kids are tantruming in public, and whether your spouse has gained weight.
Something I’ve never thought about re social judgment: we live in a “vibrant” (ie poor) inner city London neighbourhood. So instead of being judged against a bunch of middle class well-educated people like ourselves, we’re judged against our poorer, less well educated, usually not as white neighbours. So we have an unfair advantage. If we’re slack, it’ll be seen as eccentricity, not bad parenting. Whereas if we lived in the more middle class neighbourhood up the hill, we’d feel more pressure to tick all the right “good parent” boxes. And if we lived in the suburbs, we’d be under even more pressure.
We’ve always tried to achieve a 50/50 split on housework and careers, but I’ll admit it’s been quite difficult, and we’ve had to readjust our tactics from time to time. That’s one of the reasons I love these discussions.
Shortly before our wedding, my then-fiancée queried a number of high-performing women at IBM about how they managed the career/home balance. Their uniform recommendation was to hire a maid. As a result, we’ve never lived together without paid help, and this may color my analysis.
It seems to me that our approach to tasks falls into four categories, and those have varied levels of success:
1) Outsourcing: the lawn and the housework are things we spend money on. When we had our daughter, we doubled the housekeeper’s visits to once-a-week, and she now does most of the laundry.
2) Taking turns: this is our favorite strategy for balancing work. We trade weeks to cook: if it’s your week, you plan the menu, do the shopping, and cook weekday suppers & lunch on weekends. This is not a strategy we started with, but was one we adopted to get around the “loyal lieutenant” problems commenters describe above — the responsibility comes with decision-making authority, which is nice for the “on” spouse, and the “off” spouse never has to spend brain cycles on meals.
We follow an every-other-night schedule for bathing and bedtime routines, excepting Sunday night, when the newly “on” spouse shops for the week’s food. This allows either of us to go out to school board or user group meetings in the evenings, provided they line up–I haven’t gotten involved with our NA, since their meetings are on Tuesdays and we’re not willing to re-jigger our schedules. The taking-turns thing comes naturally enough that it’s our first recourse in new situations: trading whose night it is to get a decent night’s sleep during the infant years, for example.
3) Assigned jobs: These are a bit more problematic — in addition to the obvious temptation to resort to traditional gender roles when assigning tasks, the biggest problem is that the work required for the job you don’t do becomes invisible, while the work required for the job you do remains visible. I have no idea how much work is involved in shopping for children’s clothing, and my wife doesn’t know about maintaining the bills and taking out the trash. As a result, it’s hard to balance the effort required for the jobs, both emotionally and tactically.
4) Unassigned: this is the perilous realm of jobs that are done by whoever notices them, whoever did them last week, or just not done, and I suspect that it’s the biggest source of housework-stress in most marriages. It’s been discussed extensively in this thread already, though.
I expect that we’ll have to rejigger things soon, however, as my wife plans to drop to 3/4 time once our daughter is in kindergarten. Do any of you have advice on the kind of rebalancing that gets done during transitions like that?
Have I mentioned here that when I tried to convince my daughter (when she was 4) to brush her hair, on the grounds that the other moms would laugh at me if she didn’t, she said, without even the slightest hesitation, that I had to “find another group of friends.”
We basically don’t do anything around here because of how it looks to other people.
Well, that’s not completely true. If how it looks is going to have practical consequences (and sometimes it does), we take that into account. For example, I have been in houses where the clutter had been allowed to build up to a level that made me uncomfortable to leave my children there. I would try to make sure that my house did not raise that worry in others, and, sometimes, that might mean keeping my house differently than I would otherwise. So peer pressure can be effective if it has consequences. But mere opprobrium never effects me. My husband never cared. And, we’re trying to teach the children the same.
I have no advice, because it seems like you’re giving great advice yourself. I’m presuming only one child + only your wife will go to 3/4 time? Please report back to us on how you re-jigger that precisely balanced list after the transition.
One factor I’ve noticed (and Mahoney & Hirschman & the other pro-earner writers agree) is that a lot of balancing breaks down when children are produced and especially when the woman is primarily responsible for them (i.e. the patterns set up during the 3 mo of maternity leave & the subsequent year + of breastfeeding).
Thanks for the kind comment, BJ.
We’re still struggling with the 3/4 thing. Ideally I’d cut to 3/4 time too by taking the summer months off, while she would cut to six-hour days and telecommute when we travel around during the summer. That plan did not survive an encounter with management, however, so we’re still groping a bit.
We’ve had the breastfeeding discussion before, here. I’ll limit myself to saying that for physiological reasons we did exclusive pumping & bottle-feeding, so we dodged that pattern.
“We follow an every-other-night schedule for bathing and bedtime routines.”
I’m always surprised to hear how often other people bathe small children. I’m on a fairly frequent shampooing schedule (every 2-3 days) with big girl, since her hair needs a lot of management (conditioner, etc.) and she won’t let me cut it as short as I’d like, but sometimes I realize with a start that it’s been literally weeks since the boy has had a bath. Years ago, I ran the issue by two different pediatricians. “She doesn’t look dirty, does she?” said one doctor, and I’ve tried to live by that advice ever since. As a Central European once told me, Europeans bathe once a week and shop for groceries every day, while Americans bath daily and buy groceries weekly.
“For example, I have been in houses where the clutter had been allowed to build up to a level that made me uncomfortable to leave my children there.”
I’ve seen a fair amount of domestic squalor myself, which always makes me feel better about hiring household help for my house. (Note–if you’re reading this, I’m not talking about your house.)
This is Ben’s wife, chiming in too… When we had a kid (#1, with no #2 yet, but eventually… although I’ve read that things break down even more with a 2nd) our/my approach was to become even more deliberate in how we managed household tasks. I think that sort of deliberation is needed in addition to just philosophy or mindset, because you actually need a way to get the job done.
Here’s my long winded explanation of how we get meals on the table and groceries shopped for:
We try to apply the same sort of “systematic approach” to other household tasks as well.
I think we also avoided the trap of “stay at home with the baby, take on more of the household tasks, never rejigger” because I stayed with baby for the first 4 months, then Ben did for the next 2. Not exactly equal, but it broke patterns that put more of the work on me. (And he had to do the hard emotional job of transitioning baby to daycare. ha!)
I’d like our life to resemble the couples’ in that article on equal marriages from the NYT Magazine a couple years back — but most of them ended up with both members of the couple working part time, and Ben is (not surprisingly) getting a lot more management pushback on the idea of going to 75% time than I am.
What I’m finding in general, though, is that career is coming in third for both of us, after goals of “good parenting” and “solid equal marriage.” I hope the slightly-slower-track is not forever, but for now it seems like the only way to keep all the balls in the air. I really think your best bet if you want to be a high achieving woman is to marry someone with considerably less earning power than you do and then to have a high tolerance for mess/low gatekeeping style.
I’d also strongly recommend _Kidding_Ourselves_ by Rhona Mahoney as the best book I read on this topic.
I just got a forwarded email about an upcoming philosophy potluck. The author is a bright male graduate student. Here is a relevant quote: “I’ve been asked whether there are assignments as far as what to bring. There aren’t. We find it much more exciting if everyone guesses — it leaves open the possibility that there will be no drinks or nothing but drinks.”
Yes, women should just stop caring about what other people think about their housekeeping, and men should just stop caring about what anyone thinks about what kind of job they have or how much money they make. And while we’re at it we can stop caring about weight, attractiveness, and penis size. Let’s all get right on that, shall we?
nothing but drinks
I remember times like that in graduate school, though we didn’t call them “potlucks” or have any faculty involvement.
I second Sara’s recommendation for Kidding Ourselves. A great, very realistic book.
For better or worse, my main takeaway from that book was, “retain some income or you lose all voice within the family”. Which turns out to be, sadly, true.
What I’m finding in general, though, is that career is coming in third for both of us, after goals of “good parenting” and “solid equal marriage.”
That’s an interesting way to put it. And I think my quitting was a definite realization that what I really cared about was good parenting and my own sanity. My husband says that he put his career first, somewhat out of necessity, before he got tenure, but that now it’s way down the list.
For the record, housework is not on either of our lists of priorities. 🙂
I also very much liked Kidding Ourselves, and have always been disappointed that I am not hearing more from Rhona Mahoney.
“For better or worse, my main takeaway from that book was, “retain some income or you lose all voice within the family”. Which turns out to be, sadly, true. ”
I also think that was the message of the book. And, I believe that it is true, statistically, on average. But, I do not know how it plays out in each and every individual relationship.
Nice to hear from Sara about the balance. As Ben details in his list (for example, in people not understanding the work that’s done for the job that they don’t do), I think there can be a lot of miscommunication between spouses on this issue.
I’ve found that having a small house can minimize fighting about housework. However, it increases fighting about storing crap and what should go to Goodwill.
“For better or worse, my main takeaway from that book was, “retain some income or you lose all voice within the family”. Which turns out to be, sadly, true.”
Whenever somebody says something like this, I’m internally thinking, “What kind of ogre is your husband or what kind of doormat are you?”
Mahoney’s book is written in terms of negotiation strategy. I think that’s a reason why it doesn’t get the popular play that other similar books have. She describes a negotiation term (which she introduced to me, but which I assumed was actually a part of some field of study, business or law or something), BATNA (or the best alternative to a negotiated agreement. I think the BATNA term is used by litigators, for example, on whether it’s worthwhile going to trial on an issue.
Her point of view is that when one’s BATNA is low, you loose the ability to negotiate for your desired result (be it shared labor, or a move to another neighborhood, or whatever). I am too much of a behaviorist to not believe that this is indeed true, though I think BATNA is a lot more complicated to evaluate than just income.
“Her point of view is that when one’s BATNA is low, you loose the ability to negotiate for your desired result (be it shared labor, or a move to another neighborhood, or whatever).”
In The Second Shift, Hochschild cites a study that found that husbands of working wives do barely more housework than husbands of SAHMs. That’s now a golden oldie book and maybe things have changed since the 70s and 80s, but Hochschild also found that in some homes, the wives did more housework to compensate their husbands for the inconvenience and psychic trauma of them working or outearning the husbands. That’s also possibly obsolete or becoming so, although I do know one boomer couple very much like that.
I suspect that recent study that found that buying green products makes you less altruistic may be relevant:
In that study, subjects seemed to treat their previous purchase of green products as a license for subsequent cheating in an unrelated area. It’s as if there’s a limited lump of virtue that people spend, and once they expend it in one area, they have less to spend in other areas.
In the marital case we are discussing, it may be that once a man has spent psychic energy on having a working wife, he has less to spend on an equitable division of household labor. However, this analysis might only apply to Boomeer men.
It doesn’t take an ogre of a husband for a non-working wife to lose much of her negotiating power in a relationship. All it takes is the simple sentence, “His income covers the bills, therefore his job has to be the priority.”
It doesn’t take an ogre of a husband for a non-working wife to lose much of her negotiating power in a relationship.
The real benefit of being an ogre would seem to come if you have a working wife.
I think “It doesn’t take an ogre of a husband for a non-working wife to lose much of her negotiating power in a relationship,” is quite a bit different from “retain some income or you lose all voice within the family.” “All voice” is pretty categorical. I don’t know that it’s even possible unless the husband is an abusive ogre or the wife is in a coma or something. I’ve earned 50% of household income, I’ve earned 10% of household income, and I’ve earned 0% of household income, and I have exactly the same voice that I ever had. I think that an important thing that is missed by the formulation “retain some income or you lose all voice within the family” is the way that work (even household work) is tied to voice. If I am the one who buys the kids’ and my husband’s clothes, I have control over their clothes. If I am the one who keeps up communication with teachers and school generally, I control my family’s relationship with school. If I supervise homework, I control how my daughter does her work. If I make doctor’s appointments, dentist’s appointments, book camps, extracurriculars, etc., I control my family’s schedule. If I am the one who goes househunting and looks at neighborhoods and studies the market, I control where we’re going to live and the largest purchase that we will ever make. Obviously, there’s a lot of give and take there and I’m not some sort of domestic dictator, but doing domestic work gives you power.
More seriously than calculating ogre utility curves “His income covers the bills, therefore his job has to be the priority” usually means he can’t easily switch jobs or look to make any significant changes on big issues the household (like Amy P has above).
On reflection, I wasn’t quite right that my voice in the family has always been the same. What has changed a lot in the past 2.5 years or so is that I am much more financially responsible and future-oriented than I used to be. Once again, that’s attributable to me doing more work–I’ve read a couple of Dave Ramsey books, I listen to his show (often when putting away laundry), gone to a 13-week personal finance class last spring, I read personal finance blogs, and my husband and I have a monthly budget meeting, and I stick to the budget. I’ve gone from “Whatever you say, honey!” and single-handedly keeping BabyGap in the black to being much more disciplined and aware of what’s going on.
Amy, I’ll grant you “all voice”, but based on my vicarious reading of Mahoney, that’s not her point. In fact, she’s not quite addressing the same thing as Hochschild, though there are interesting interactions,
Rather, imagine the scenario in which one spouse arrives home in the evening with the news that the company wants to transfer them from a doomed project in Armonk to a growing one in Fishkill, with a promotion and a raise involved. If one spouse doesn’t bring in a proportional share of the income, the economic deliberations about whether to move become a no-brainer.
The problem with lopsided-income households isn’t that the higher earner is able to act like an ogre — it’s that both spouses–caring, fair, equality minded spouses–look at such decisions and discover that the obvious answer favors the higher earner’s career. If this happens enough, it has a sort of compounding effect on the wage disparity within the household.
All this talk of ogres is making me want to try WoW.
I just disagree that doing domestic work gives you any real power within a family. Think about Amy P’s house hunting example: truth be told, at the end of the day you can do all the research you want. If the spouse who pays the bills doesn’t agree with your choice of neighborhoods, that conversation is over.
And there’s no reason to think that a primary breadwinner would have any more difficulty changing jobs. This depends upon the field, not the primary breadwinner status.
Like bj, I think there’s more to these dynamics than just income. And who knows whether income comes with confidence or vice versa. All I know is that the women I know with no income always end up caving when the husband insists on moving to Kansas.
And there’s no reason to think that a primary breadwinner would have any more difficulty changing jobs. This depends upon the field, not the primary breadwinner status.
Risk aversion plays a role as well as insurance coverage.
All I know is that the women I know with no income always end up caving when the husband insists on moving to Kansas.
I had income and my wife did not. I still wound-up in Pittsburgh.
Does anyone have any practical suggestions for consciousness-raising for the invisible labor?
My partner will accept invitations to children’s birthday parties on behalf of our children, only to look at me blankly when, 20 minutes before the party begins, I ask what gift they are taking. Do I care if the child’s mom is annoyed because we show up empty-handed? A bit, but I really don’t want to disappoint a child who is eagerly anticipating all those presents (and they do!).
He will forget every birthday, holiday, anniversary in the world without reminders. Do I care if my mother-in-law is angry at me because she didn’t get a card or present? Not that much, because it’s *his* mother. But do I want her to have a nice birthday? Yes.
If we move, I am in charge of all change of addresses for utilities, professional societies, doctors, IRS, Social Security, family, friends, etc. I would like to get my mail. I asked him to contact his own HR dept and 7 months later it still hasn’t been done.
My partner is a wonderful human with whom I am very much in love but sometimes I have nightmares about the birthdays and holidays my children would have if I was killed in a car accident or something. These things are just not on his radar screen. It might be fun to have a potluck of just drinks, but you can’t raise children that way. In other words, it’s not just about fear of rejection from the community of female peers (though I agree that that plays a large role in cleaning particularly), but it’s also about believing that the labor we do to create homey homes and cheerful holidays is worthwhile and important to human happiness.
As others have noted, the arrival of children puts a wrench into the egalitarian works. Naomi Wolf’s chapter in Misconceptions, “Calling It Fair”, is a lovely anecdotal description of this process.
We have been “Calling It Fair” for a number of years now, but are revisiting this issue since I have just started a tenure-track position and my partner has tenure. I feel as though I have supported our household by doing more of the domestic labor for the past decade and now it’s my turn to work more at work and slack more on the home front.
It’s just not working out that way.
“If the spouse who pays the bills doesn’t agree with your choice of neighborhoods, that conversation is over.”
Then they have to do house-hunting work themselves and offer a viable alternative. In my particular case, my husband moved well over a dozen times growing up and wants nothing to do with the process. I’m supposed to find a house and he’ll sign off on it. He really doesn’t like looking at houses, so I don’t think this will take very long. When we moved to Texas, I made a special trip to look at rentals and I chose our current house by myself.
“All I know is that the women I know with no income always end up caving when the husband insists on moving to Kansas.”
That’s just not my world, either the caving or the hating Kansas. I liked moving to DC for my husband’s first tenure track job and I liked moving to Texas (in fact, it was largely my initiative). I’m still a bit regretful that we didn’t do an academic gig in Qatar. After the kids are launched, it would be fun to do a year in Poland or at Notre Dame or at a seminary in Nigeria or something, or maybe all of the above. I would be rather resistant to moving anywhere while the kids are putting down roots, but that is extremely unlikely. Tenured faculty are as immovable as oak trees, and as I mentioned, my husband hates moving.
More tangible work for him? Email him lists (my current honey-do list is 1. write paper for Baltimore 2010 ACPA 2. check both credit reports 3. rollover 401(k) from previous job 4. change HVAC filter 5. clean up dining room table papers)? Also, don’t die.
There is some evidence that the total work that men and women do is about the same:
Throughout the world, men spend more time on market work, while women spend more time on homework. In the United States and other rich countries, men average 5.2 hours of market work a day and 2.7 hours of homework each day, while women average 3.4 hours of market work and 4.5 hours of homework per day. Adding these up, men work an average of 7.9 hours per day, while women work an average of—drum roll, please—7.9 hours per day.
When the women works full time, I do think there is a second shift effect though.
Amy, I’m assuming you don’t have to ask for money whenever you want to buy something. That’s how the control happens.
I think talking about the statistical phenomenon: women have less power in marriage when they do not earn a sizable contribution of the household’s earnings (not to mention that women already have reduced power through their shorter biological fertility and their lower value on the remarriage market, at least as long as the man is employed), is not changed by anecdotal examples of power and sharing in individual relationships.
Christiana: I (though female) am one of those people — who forgets things. It is almost always sincere. I walked down to the basement 3 times yesterday looking for ice cream in the fridge and forgot each time. But, the only way to mitigate the forgetting is to stop enabling it (both by controlling and by rescuing). Your spouse may need to come up with their own strategy for remembering details and obligations. He may not be able to — the problem could be nearly pathological. It is for me, and it takes enormous energy to keep on track of little things like where my keys are. But, the only way I manage is when people don’t pick up after me.
Now, you might decide that it’s not worth it — it may well not be. But unless the consequences are felt, the behavior almost certainly won’t change. (Same thing about watching someone wash the dishes out of exhaustion and with huffing).
“Amy, I’m assuming you don’t have to ask for money whenever you want to buy something. That’s how the control happens.”
No way. I don’t personally know any housewives who operate under that system, although I occasionally hear Dave Ramsey on the radio lowering the boom on some husband who does. My husband and I do a 20-minute monthly budget meeting, divide monthly income into about 30 different categories, and then take it from there.
I expect I’ll work eventually (I’d like to try my hand at tax prep), but it’s not currently feasible. Mostly, I’m thinking that the way things have been going, it’s prudent to oversave for retirement. (I believe there is a nonworking spouse’s Roth IRA, which is nice.) It’s not clear which parts of the current safety net will still be in working order over the next 60 years. Plus, some bright political folk may decide to nationalize private retirement plans like they just did in Argentina. That sort of possibility makes it very difficult to plan for the long term.
(Note–if you’re reading this, I’m not talking about your house.)
Well, I hope not. I mean, it’s not that I wouldn’t invite you over, just that I haven’t so far, and unless, unknown to me, you are the person who was supposed to come fix the hot water in my shower today, I’d wonder what you’d been doing in my apartment.
I’m really shocked at people’s perceptions of marriage and power. If I thought that way, I would never have bothered to get married. Way too much trouble.
My husband always makes more than I do, regardless of my employment status. But I make all the decisions in the family, because of our personalities. He’s extremely easy going, and I’m a high-strung, picky, opinionated, fashion conscious bitch. I never check with him before I make a purchase under $100. If we need something that costs more than $100, I do the research on the options, narrow it down to two or three, and then then get his input. Either party has complete veto power. He vetoed a flowery chair that I wanted. I vetoed spending money on vehicles. If he controlled the money or made me move to place that I didn’t want to go to, I would divorce him in an instant. Who wold put up with that shit?
His job does limit our freedoms in many ways, but the job isn’t my husband. It’s like a third person in our marriage. If it becomes too annoying, we can divorce it, too.
My apologies for overstating the situation with my original “all voice” comment. (Chalk it up to a very long week. I’ll spare you the details of the ER visits.)
My intent was to point out what Ben described so well. When one half of a couple gives up all income and lets their income-earning skills go, over time this results in a serious imbalance in terms of decision-making input.
I am somewhat poisoned by my own anecdata on this one. I work with mostly men, many of whom are wonderful people. But many of them also say things like, “My wife didn’t like it, but what’s she going to do? I knew in the end she’d agree.”
My marital situation is very much like Laura’s, except I would describe myself as a controlling, opinionated, lazy bitch. 🙂 We did have some conflict over the fact that my husband’s hobbies are expensive, and mine are cheap. But he solved that problem by turning his hobby into a business to fund itself.
Our future conflict will be over where to retire. He insists he wants to retire to Maine. OMGWTF. I’m pretty sure we’ll end up divorcing in our 60s over this.
“He insists he wants to retire to Maine. OMGWTF.”
Go ahead and try it for a year or two–at least the summers are nice. Based on my reading of the housing bubble blogs, there are a lot of people who fall in love with various vacation spots, buy a house there, and then realize that they can’t take it year-round: Maine and Montana winters, Pacific Northwest rain-induced depression, humid and buggy Florida, etc. It’s probably going to be a moot point, though–you may both be so attached to your medical specialists at retirement age that you would only move if you could persuade them to go, too.
Re: control of money
I feel a bit sorry for any man so insecure that he has to micromanage every purchase.
There are some quotes on the destructive downward spiral of micromanagement in the corporate world from Cristobal Conde over at KTM: http://kitchentablemath.blogspot.com/2010/01/micromanagement.html
I think that being a micromanager is really it’s own punishment. I was telling my husband about that last night. “Imagine if you had to sign off on every clothing purchase. I’d tell you that D had grown out of his size 11 black suede Landsend mocs and that I’d like to buy him a pair of size 12 black suede Landsend mocs for 24.95 ($5 off the usual price!). He has to have these new shoes because of the uniform rules at school for Mondays and Wednesdays. Blah, blah, blah, blah.” Too much information.
It’s much more efficient that this month I’ve got $120 in the clothing budget to do with as I like and I get D those shoes without running it by my husband, just as he’s got $40 to spend on astronomy and other hobby stuff, or I’ll let him pick out my next laptop for me without asking too many questions, as long as it’s around $500 and has decent reviews.
“If he controlled the money or made me move to place that I didn’t want to go to, I would divorce him in an instant. ”
Ah, but this *is* your BATNA — If you can’t negotiate a solution to that flowered chair, you can divorce him :-). Or, at least you think you can/will, and he believes you (and, would prefer that you didn’t).
But, we only really get to weigh in on this when we’re 80 with our husbands next to us in the rocking chairs.
My husband and I divided up our bookshelf space in our closet this morning; we each got 2.5 shelves. And, we decided that the shelf space would be allocated as follows: you can abandon any book you want to the other, if you don’t want to keep it in your shelf. But then, they can discard it if they want to. The language/history baby name books (i.e the original of names) are currently in danger of being orphaned.
I like the characterization of the job as the 3rd “adult” in the family, rather than being his.
Amy, I lived in Maine for three years. Three looong years. I am very familiar with it, and my familiarity has bred contempt.
Good point about micromanagement being its own punishment, but I suspect we are people who don’t like micromanagement. Some people though really get off on it.
My husband and I divided up our bookshelf space in our closet this morning; we each got 2.5 shelves.
Our house looks like small-town library with a too-small housekeeping budget, an over-large “Thomas DVD” collection, and way too few shelves.
“Amy, I lived in Maine for three years. Three looong years. I am very familiar with it, and my familiarity has bred contempt.”
Bummer. What is the attraction? Lighthouses?
Probably. *rolls eyes* I may be lucky. If I ride out this obsession, maybe he’ll become obsessed with architecture again or something that would involve living in a city.
I’m bummed. We’re going to SF for a few days in late Feb, and he’s planning to drag us all out to Point Reyes. ;P
D (age 4) just got a lighthouse set for his Thomas collection. Oops. Who knows where this will end?
I don’t know where it ends, but it started with trains. I’m just saying.
It can get much worse than trains. I know people with boys who are obsessively following the Pirates. At least a train moves in October.
It doesn’t make sense to me to compare high-discussion high-collaboration marriages to traditional patriarchal marriages. Of course Amy’s marriage isn’t going to turn into that kind of marriage just because of the cash situation.
You’re assuming, too, that what the wife wants to spend IS reasonable. I bet if it isn’t, the incentive to reset expectations rather than say “I’m earning the money, here’s how much you can spend” is far less.
“You’re assuming, too, that what the wife wants to spend IS reasonable. I bet if it isn’t, the incentive to reset expectations rather than say “I’m earning the money, here’s how much you can spend” is far less.”
Yes. Back about 5-9 years ago, I wanted to buy a house. My husband (the big meanie) said we didn’t have the money. And you know what? We didn’t. And the funny thing is, now that we actually have money rather than debt, I’m not in a rush any more.
Marriage and money is one of the areas where Dave Ramsey does some of his best work on the radio. He’s in some ways a very traditional guy, but he’s also an advocate of the Evangelical partnership-type marriage. He encourages male business owners to listen to nonworking wives when they worry about grandiose new ventures. He tells them, “Every time I don’t listen to my wife, it costs me $10,000.” Another frequent target is the guy (it’s usually a guy) who says, “I work hard and it’s my money, so I ought to be able to buy a boat or a new truck or a motorcycle, etc.” If you want to be happily married and financially solvent, you can’t think like that.
On the other side of the ledger, from listening to the show wives seem more prone to secret financial misdeeds, like an unexpected $20k in credit card debt on a card taken out without clearing it with the other spouse, perhaps as a way to get around financial oversight. Guy financial misdeeds seem to be more out in the open. You can look in the driveway and there it is.
So no yurt for me.
Wendy, try to get your husband to be satisfied with a yurt in Maine. Possibly cheap enough that you could also keep a real house in a populated state.
“So no yurt for me.”
I guess not. How about one of those Viking longboats instead? You could break even in a year.
There is much less to pillage, what with the recession and all.
Here’s STL’s latest, on the perils of shared homemaking:
“What can turn into a second shift is not just negotiating the splitting of this labor with another person, but the splitting of decision-making authority. Two co-workers in the home also have the opportunity to regularly evaluate each other’s handiwork, not always to a positive effect. (Suffice it to say, stacking food in the fridge with precise geometric elegance is apparently not among my talents.) In short, as the Tupperware totters lopsidedly about, in the domestic equation, the work I do at home is no longer a gift, but the labor of a mediocre colleague whose performance could be better.”
The rest of it isn’t that good.
Once again the New York Times is late to the party!
Got a link, Amy?
I’ll do a quickie post, Ben, with all the links.
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