I am not exactly sure why, but I’ve noticed something odd every time my husband is away from home for an extended period of time, like when he’s on a trip or working late many days in a row. I get really stressed out thinking about how I’m going to have to handle everything myself, but what ends up happening is the opposite of what I expected.
Things become eerily easier when he’s gone.
Now, don’t get me wrong: not everything is easier. My husband is a great dad, and an equal partner when it comes to our kids. When he’s not around for a while I feel it hard in that department and basically shove the kids in his face when he returns. But when it comes to household chores – like cleaning up messes, taking out the trash (usually his job), and just generally keeping things tidy – I find that things are just simpler and easier without him around.
Granted, he’s not the messiest person in the world. But he’s is more likely to leave a random sock or bath towel lying around than me. And he just doesn’t see messes as problematic in the same way I do, so there’s that. I think perhaps a big part of it is the fact that for many (but not all) of the chores he has to do, I end up having to remind him to do them. And I guess I don’t always realize the toll that being a constant nag takes on me.
Either way, it’s definitely something I’ve noticed. And it turns out, I’m not the only one – that is, according to a 2008 study out of the University of Michigan. Researchers there were trying to determine how the allocation of household work has changed over the past few decades. They compared married couples in the ’70s to married couples today to see who did more chores.
But what they unearthed was kind of surprising. Although married men do pitch in today more than they used to, being married adds a whopping 7 hours of household chores to a woman’s life however you cut it.
For husbands, on the other hand? Well, having a wife actually decreases their household work by an hour.
How on earth does that compute, you may be asking? (Or you may be nodding knowingly, because those of us who have been there know exactly why this is!)
Basically, the researchers found that in 2005, when they surveyed married couples for their study, single, unmarried women with no children performed about 10 hours of housework a week. But married women with no kids performed 17 hours of housework a week.
Again, these are women who have no children – and who ostensibly have spouses who have every opportunity to pitch in. In essence, having a husband present in the home not only did nothing to alleviate housework, but it actually added housework!
When reversed, things don’t look much better. The study found that single, unmarried men with zero kiddos did about 8 hours of household a week. But when a wife comes into the picture, that dropped down to 7 hours a week.
So clearly, being married is an asset to men when it comes to housework (wife=live-in maid), but women don’t get anything in return when they get married (at least in terms of household help).
Welp. That’s pretty freaking infuriating.
I suppose there is some good news, when it came to what the researchers found as they compared household chore distribution in the ’70s vs today.
It seems that things have improved overall since the 70s. In 1976, married women did 9 hours of housework as compared to single women, whereas in 2005, married women did 4 more hours of housework than single women.
That’s still too many damn hours, especially if you compare it to how few men do, but it’s something.
The other bit of good news is that men are stepping up, even if it’s hard for us to see. In 1976, married men spent three fewer hours on housework than single men, whereas in 2005, married men spent 5 more hours a week helping out around the house than single men did.
Progress, I suppose, though at a snail’s pace.
So where does that leave married women like me, and maybe you? Well, my top job now is to get my dear husband to see what is going on here. I don’t know if it’s as a result of biology, gender norms, upbringing, or what, but he literally doesn’t see the messes he makes, he doesn’t see the messes others make, and he doesn’t know how to take it upon himself to fix said messes.
Not in every case, of course, but in enough cases that I end up doing the bulk of household chores, as well as the mental work of making sure the chores get done (i.e., nagging).
But we’re working on it. It’s become a frequent topic of conversation around here. Sometimes the talks are difficult. Sometimes voices are raised. But I’m not willing to let it go any longer – and thankfully he’s the kind of guy who wants to change, wants to lighten my load, and is doing what he can to make that happen.
Things really are as unequal as we think they are, and we have every right to call it out, and expect more. Let’s hope that our partners will be able to step up. I mean, it’s 2019 already. It’s time.