Let’s talk about sex.
Well actually, let’s talk about gender. And housework.
At HAPS, we are interested in the research about our houses. The information collected on gender and housework over the last couple of decades (contrary to what we might think), points out that since the housework revolution of the 1980s, very little has changed.
But so much has changed since the 1980s, hasn’t it? (And this blog doesn’t even begin to address changes to the traditional gender makeup of our households).
Firstly, there was no internet (what?), and both mobile phones and personal computers were rare, huge and crazily expensive. We had cassette tapes, Rubix cubes, huge shoulder pads and Duran Duran…that’s right, surely if we could develop something even better than a cassette tape, revolutionising how we view work around the house should be a piece of cake…
So, Duran Duran are no longer young, and shoulder pads should be forgotten, which means we can’t deny the 1980s were a really long time ago. So why have things ground to a housework halt? According to Bianchi et al (http://muse.jhu.edu/article/484134), workplaces and homes are both places where cultural expectations and norms are played out. Since the 1980s we have seen policy made to improve women’s participation in the workplace, yet the same policy shifts are not as easy to implement and enforce within our homes. Therefore, the majority of women return home from work to a ‘second shift’ of housework. This term was coined in 1989, when sociologists examined working families unpaid work responsibilities (https://www.amazon.com/Second-Shift-Working-Families-Revolution/dp/0143120336). It was discovered that food prep, laundry, housework and childcare is largely the responsibility of the woman in the household. Although the following chart is from 2006, evidence from later studies indicate similar patterns still exist.
Here we see that although men, on average, do significantly more home maintenance and marginally more grounds care than women, overall these tasks account for a very small proportion of work around the home, and are often seen as “helping out” rather than equal participation.
The implications of this persistent gender gap within unpaid work are increasingly relevant in 2019. Disproportionate responsibility for unpaid work reduces a woman’s time to partake in paid employment, her ability to participate in political life, and seriously impairs her ability to rest!
Ultimately, the continued acceptance for one person to work a ‘second shift’ at home – whether conscious or not – creates cultural patterns and expectations that continue to devalue the work needed to run a home, and therefore also devalues the way we treat our largest assets. If we are not sharing the responsibility of work around the home, then the message remains, we don’t take house-work seriously.
According to the website ‘the conversation’ where the above graph was published, the solutions to closing this gap are threefold. Firstly, we can challenge our cultural tendency to judge women for “dirty homes” (i.e. not doing her job), secondly, we need to simultaneously and collectively reframe men’s participation in the house away from ‘helping’ to being equally responsible, and lastly we can outsource household tasks. Outsourcing tasks, although beyond the financial means of many families, is an area where policy and our technology can make an impact, with a view to making this cheaper and more accessible for families over time.
So almost 40 years on from what we considered to be a progressive jump in shared responsibility around the home, how much has actually changed? The science, relevant technology and understanding of these problems have evolved – so we know more about more – and yet we are still returning home to the 1980s.