The Chore Wars; Men, Women Divided over Housework

Article excerpt

Byline: Laura Diamond, The Times-Union

Ask who does most of the chores in the Johnson household, and Vanessa Johnson raises her hand.

"I do at least 90 percent of the work," Vanessa says, crossing her arms.

Her husband of seven years, Scott, tilts his head and stares at her.

She grins back. Then, staring down at her hand, she counts off everything she does: laundry, vacuuming, dusting, sorting the mail, loading and emptying the dishwasher.

Before Vanessa can continue listing the tasks on the opposite hand, Scott waves his hands in the air to stop her from speaking.

"Whoa! Be realistic for a moment," Scott says. "It's more 50-50."

"Yeah? When was the last time you cleaned the bathroom?" she asks, shaking her finger at him. "You can think you do half of it if you like, but the truth is it's all me."

Who to believe?

The smart money is on Vanessa.

Whether the couple be in their 20s like the Johnsons or in their twilight years, studies show that wives do the majority of the household chores. Husbands typically do no more than about one-third of the work.

For years, economists and sociologists reasoned that women did most of the housework because their husbands earned more, the idea being that the breadwinner doesn't have to do as much around the house.

But George Akerlof, an economics professor at the University of California at Berkley, co-authored a 2000 study that found that wives do more of the housework even if they work more hours than their husbands do.

The report showed that men typically don't do more than 37 percent of the household chores. When men are the sole breadwinner, they do about 10 percent of the chores.

For the purpose of this study and others, household chores are defined as anything that contributes to the upkeep and maintenance of the household -- that includes such indoor chores as dusting and mopping as well as yard work and errand running. The only thing it doesn't include is child care.

The chore divide continues because housework is loaded with gender meaning, said Julie Brines, a sociology professor and associate director of the Center for Research on Families at the University of Washington.

"In couples where the male partner is already in gender jeopardy [because he is] not the breadwinner, it is risky for him to do housework," Brines said. "It raises questions about his masculinity."

For similar reasons, wives who earn more than their husbands do an even greater share of the household chores. Brines' research shows this phenomenon starts when the wife makes about one-third more than her husband.

"The idea is that if someone is not traditional in one area, she will try to do it in another," Brines said. …