Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Enough Time for Housework? Low-Wage Work and Desired Housework Time Adjustments

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Enough Time for Housework? Low-Wage Work and Desired Housework Time Adjustments

Article excerpt

The extensive scholarly literature on household work highlights the importance of unpaid labor performed within the home. Routine chores such as grocery shopping, household repairs, and laundry are essential tasks of everyday life. Existing research on household work focuses primarily on the amount of time individuals spend performing household activities and how tasks are divided between couples (Bianchi, Sayer, Milkie, & Robinson, 2012; Coltrane, 2000; Lachance-Grzela & Bouchard, 2010). This literature has produced important insights into the social processes that shape household labor but does not address individuals' preferences for how much time they would like to spend on household work or their ability to fulfill those preferences.

In contrast, individuals' preferences for how much time to spend on paid employment and the extent to which these preferences align with actual paid work hours have received considerable scholarly attention. Motivated by concerns over the increasing prevalence of long working hours in the United States, studies seek to assess the extent to which changes in working time are driven by individual preferences, as suggested by neoclassical economic theory as well as by some sociological theory, or by constraints placed on workers by the economy, employers and the organization of work, and household responsibilities (Reynolds & Aletraris, 2006; Stier & Lewin-Epstein, 2003). Studies have documented a high prevalence of workers reporting a mismatch between preferred and actual paid work hours (Altonji & Paxton, 1988; Reynolds, 2004, 2005; Reynolds & Aletraris, 2006, 2010). For example, Reynolds (2005) found that, when asked about ideal work hours, almost two thirds of U.S. workers reported wanting to spend less time in paid work, and about 12% would have preferred more paid work hours. Factors that influence financial need and demands for work at home, such as educational attainment and household structure, as well as job characteristics, such as requirements for advancement or job security and access to scheduling flexibility, play a major role in explaining mismatches between desired and actual paid work hours (Altonji & Paxton, 1988; Jacobs & Gerson, 2004; Reynolds, 2004, 2005; Reynolds & Aletraris, 2006; Stier & Lewin-Epstein, 2003).

There does not exist a parallel literature on workers' preferences for time on unpaid household work, whether individuals are constrained in their ability to spend the amount of time they prefer on household work, and if so, what factors act as constraints. The processes shaping time on paid work and housework are distinct. Yet, given the interconnections between paid and unpaid labor, the high prevalence of paid work-hour mismatch suggests there may be a related discrepancy between the time individuals would like to spend on household management tasks and the actual time they are able to devote to this work. Similarly, as job characteristics help explain the likelihood of mismatch between desired and actual paid work hours, it is possible that the structure of paid work may also help explain workers' ability to align preferred and actual time spent on household labor.

Building knowledge of the prevalence of household work-hour mismatch and job conditions that may fuel it holds the potential to reveal yet another way the long arm of paid work reaches into the personal and family lives of workers. As many household tasks are central to individual and family functioning, mismatch in the direction of wanting more time on household work may indicate individuals are struggling to attend to tasks essential to everyday life, and this desire may be related to conditions of work shown to undermine family well-being in other ways. Moreover, just as studies have found that paid work-hour mismatch can lead to poor physical and mental health (Dooley, 2003; Galinsky, Kim, & Bond, 2001), feelings of not doing enough or doing too much at home may also be distressing and diminish individual well-being. …

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