Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Picking Up the Slack

An ABC News article posted on Yahoo!'s home page caught my eye a week or so ago. The first blurb suggested something like: "Men find doing housework pays off in bedroom."

Believe it or not, I was too busy at the time to follow that teaser, and when I looked for it later the tagline had changed to: "Study: Men doing more housework." Hmm, what was up here? Had the guys learned of the connection between sex and chores and made news?

No, it was one and the same study, cited by the Council on Contemporary Families. I guess someone complained that the study gave no details on the frequency of marital relations, so the teaser line on Yahoo! changed midday.

Even without the titillating details, it is an interesting piece of research. It claims that men have doubled the amount of time they spent on household tasks in the past 50 years. Now anyone beyond first grade knows that zero doubled is still zero, but that's not what this study indicated.

Nooo, it states that since the 1960s men have increased participation in household tasks to 30 percent! Consequently, women reported spending a whopping two hours less on housework than they used to. My goodness, aren't the guys turning into such big helpers.

The area that has shown the greatest change is child care, where men claim to have tripled their participation in their children's lives. Women, incidentally, also have doubled the amount of time they spend involved in child care, indicating an overall change in how involved parents are in their children's lives today. I guess we've figured out that kids don't raise themselves after all.

Again, this is interesting stuff but there are some major gaps. My brief stint in graduate school gave me just enough information on scholarly research to figure out that this was not original research, but a literature review. Thus, there were no details of exactly how the researchers, a fellow from California and two from Israel, came to the conclusion that men are now doing more of what most women would call their fair share of the household chores.

How did the researchers determine this great trend? Was it self-reported data? I figure that it was probably a telephone survey or something asking "how much time do you spend on housework?" That would explain the big change: Men lie, oh excuse me, I meant exaggerate; women don't remember.

Think about it: If someone called and asked how much time you spent on housework, would you remember each packet of minutes involved in those mundane tasks of everyday life? For the person who really does the work, it would be utterly depressing to think that you'd spent probably the equivalent of a whole day each week on laundry, cooking, shopping, taking care of kids, etc. But today's sensitive male would likely boast that he'd done hours and hours of housework. Even if it was just folding socks while watching golf.

As for the prurient aspect, the article did report that when men do more of the housework, women's perceptions of fairness and marital satisfaction rise and the couple experiences less marital conflict. There's a no-brainer for you.

I'd like to continue with this fascinating discussion, but my husband just finished the dishes.....