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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Mon 12-Aug-19 14:24:00

Guest post: “Why are women still doing more housework?”

Analysing data from more than 6000 heterosexual couples, Dr Yang Hu from Lancaster University writes about how the management of household finances is linked to the time spent doing routine housework

Dr Yang Hu

Lecturer at Lancaster University

Posted on: Mon 12-Aug-19 14:24:00

(68 comments )

Lead photo

“The time men spend on housework has hardly changed since the 1990s (less than one hour per day)”

Social scientists like myself are interested in housework as it provides a window into the ‘checks and balances’ of power and gender in couple relationships.

In the UK, we’ve seen much progress toward gender equality in the public sphere. For example, the rate of women who participate in paid work has increased from 52% in 1990 to 57% in 2018. Thanks to equal-pay campaigns, the gender pay gap nearly halved between 1990 and 2018, from 34% to 18%.

But it’s puzzling that progress in these areas hasn’t translated into gender equality at home. In 2015, women in the UK still spent twice as much time as men on chores such as laundry, ironing, vacuuming, grocery shopping and cooking. In fact, the time men spend on housework has hardly changed since the 1990s (less than one hour per day). As a result, working women often experience a ‘double-bind’ of work and housework.

Traditional wisdom tells us that men do less housework because they play the breadwinner role. But I can’t help but wonder why women are still doing much more housework, even when they contribute equally to household income. Why have women’s earnings not reduced their housework and increased that of their male partners?

To answer these questions, I analysed data from a national survey of 6070 working-age (20-59) heterosexual couples in the UK. In this new study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, I went beyond earnings to examine the implications of household financial organisation — how income is managed between partners and who has a say in financial decisions — for the division of housework.

Working women often experience a ‘double-bind' of work and housework


I find that as couples broker money, power and housework, men both ‘exchange’ and ‘bargain’ their way out of housework.

On one hand, some men reduce their housework participation by handing over their income to their partners, and the partners who take over the income end up doing more housework.

On the other hand, some other men withhold their own income or take control of the household’s income. Such financial control gives them the power to avoid housework.
The only way in which women’s earnings can help reduce their housework burden is for them to keep a separate account from their partners. My findings show that women who manage their own earnings spend much less time (three hours per week) on housework than those who don’t.

Taking control of their own income, the women don’t necessarily have to strike a ‘no-win’ bargain with men. Instead, women’s financial autonomy allows them to use their own earnings to ‘opt out’ or in some cases ‘buy out’ of housework.

Notably, we cannot assume that professional, high-earning women have access to and control of their income at home - quite the contrary. I find that in the UK, only less than 12% of working-age women kept separate purses, another 23% managed household finances, and only around 15% controlled financial decisions.

Around 48% of working-age couples pool their income and jointly manage their earnings. In this case, housework division hinges on who controls financial decisions. If partners make joint financial decisions (69%), the division is then determined by who contributes a greater share to the joint pool.

This puts women in a ‘no-win’ situation: given widespread gender wage penalties and a glass ceiling in the labour market, men still tend to earn more than their female partners.

Much to our surprise, when women do out-earn their male partners, they are seen to do much more housework. Sociologists referred to this phenomenon as ‘gender display’ or ‘gender deviance neutralization’ — as high-earning women deviate from traditional gender norms in the labour market, they tend to reclaim ‘femininity’ by doing (more) housework. At the same time, their male partners are found to do less housework to compensate for a perceived ‘lack of masculinity’ for not being the major earner.

In addition to traditional gender norms, not being able to access their own earnings and have a say in financial decisions still present formidable hurdles for working women to reduce their housework burden. If men still monopolise household finances and traditional gender norms still hold sway, then it’s unlikely that gender equality in housework is possible, however much women earn.

Employing more women and settling the gender pay gap with gender equality flowing neatly into place at home as a result is certainly not the story this analysis is revealing. It’s important for everyone to be able to access, manage and control their own earnings.

Due to a lack of large-scale nationwide data, my research didn’t cover non-heterosexual couples. As families are becoming increasingly diverse, it is important to explore how non-heterosexual couples broker money and housework.

Dr. Yang Hu is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Lancaster University. His research focuses on changing family, gender and sexual relations, with an aim to advance gender and social equalities, and family justice.

Dr Hu will be returning to the thread on 21 August to answer some user questions

By Dr Yang Hu

Twitter: @dr_yanghu

pottedshrimps Mon 12-Aug-19 15:07:58

In my experience of living with men, they will go to considerable lengths to avoid housework. They also appear to be able to ignore mess, dirt and untidiness and will choose to live in mess rather than clean up. This is why I found housework strikes didn't work.

The attitudes from the men included:

A sense of entitlement and that they were somehow above menial tasks. If they cooked, they would leave mess which I had to clear up.

They took it as an affront to their masculinity.

Laziness and disinterest.

A lack of attention to detail and general sloppiness, including doing jobs wrong so I wouldn't ask them again or making more mess whilst doing the job.

None of the men were old, disabled, sick or had demanding jobs. I was also employed and had two children to care for in the last relationship.

sleepyhead Mon 12-Aug-19 15:26:40

I've thought a lot about this (particularly in regards to ability to live in mess rather than clean up).

My own musings come to the conclusion that (for me - I can't necessarily extrapolate to anyone else) there is a much higher social penalty for messy women than messy men. I'm not sure there's a male term that is quite the same as "slattern".

If we have a messy house I feel that it reflects on me because that's how I was brought up. Even though I know that dh should feel "shame" (if anyone should be ashamed) if the house isn't up to standard for visitors as he is currently at home while I'm working, he's not bothered - he doesn't attach a sense of self-worth to tidyness and doesn't feel judged by mess. I do.

Longtalljosie Mon 12-Aug-19 15:56:48

Yes I think that’s right - and to some in the wider family there is a sense that you are only excused having a real career if you have succeeded in having an immaculate home. Without it any professional success is able to be dismissed as you not coping.

HappyParent2000 Mon 12-Aug-19 16:13:00

Our house is probably the odd one out. It would say the man still does less of the housework but over the week probably “works” more hours if combine all the things together.

Rather than measuring who does the most housework maybe see who spends most of their time doing their own thing or resting. We were actually suprised when we totted it all up.

Grasspigeons Mon 12-Aug-19 16:47:56

Its simply never occured to my dh that it would ever be his job to do some of these things as he had no male role model doing them, therefore he feels no stress when they arent done or any social pressure / judgement if they arent done.

The wonder how many 'man' jobs were included. Diy, car maintenance, mowing lawns, putting bins out are often suggested as taking similar time to cleaning and i wondered if this was true and if men actually still did them anyway.

NotSuchASmugMarriedNow1 Mon 12-Aug-19 17:28:43

I think a lot more men now were raised by single mothers and are just used to seeing women doing everything. Not saying that's right

iklboo Mon 12-Aug-19 18:08:54

DH is pretty good - does the hoovering, takes the recycling out (sometimes), the weeding & hedge trimming, defrost the freezer etc.

BUT apparently the washing machine, upstairs bins and clothes putting away are all DNA coded to me. I mean, that must be the only reason nobody else does it, right?

Lexilooo Mon 12-Aug-19 18:13:58

I'm not sure what the answer is but I am a woman who does less housework than her husband - you are welcome to study me!

I think it is much more complex than just being about earnings. Earnings and working hours play a part but so does background and parental examples, playing to your strengths/skills/preferences, and mess tolerance level.

Personally I think my father allowing his daughter to see him hoover/clean the oven/bleach the loo despite being the main earner was a really important lesson, equally as important as teaching me to change a car wheel or wire a plug.

Lovemenorca Mon 12-Aug-19 18:25:16

And men likely do more gardening and diy and car related activities. Jobs I despise.

newstart1337 Mon 12-Aug-19 18:31:05

I think this is just a difference between men and women. Women have higher standards so will spend longer cleaning. Men have a different/lower level of acceptable cleanliness so will spend less time cleaning.
Probably arises from women being the ones who have the children which creates the instinct to build a safe, clean 'nest'.

Lexilooo Mon 12-Aug-19 18:48:36

While I think a positive role model can be helpful I really don't think lack of a male role model doing housework is any excuse.

My husband was brought up with a traditional stay at home mum who regarded housework as her job and didn't let anyone else help. However when he moved out (student digs, batchelor house share and then living alone) he no longer had a live in maid and had to look after himself. He survived. Living with a woman didn't remove his ability to take care of the housework and why the hell should I pick up more than half just because I lack a Y chromosome?

Men only get away with doing less than half the housework if we let them. They are just as capable.

Kiwiinkits Mon 12-Aug-19 22:58:37

I think the most interesting trend is the trend towards outsourcing or opting-out of household labour. Very interesting that is more apparent in couples where the woman controls her own finances. That is the conclusion stood out to me.

kamelo Tue 13-Aug-19 02:20:00

I think this is trying to make a rather simple thing complicated. I don't believe it's down to earnings, who manages finances or bartering who does what. I think it's a simple as your tolerance to living in or around mess, that's why going on strike will not work as it annoys you even more.
There are things that annoy the hell out of me and I can't ignore them yet OH barely notices them if at all, likewise there are a couple of things that drive him mad and he'll do them straight away but I'm happy to leave them till later knowing he will have done them by then so I don't have to.
I guess we are therefore both guilty.

pennypineapple Tue 13-Aug-19 03:20:14

I think it's societal pressure on women to have a clean house/perfectly turned out children, which doesn't exist for men in the same way.

Men notice mess less because society allows them not to care and not to feel responsible. Women notice because they feel they will be judged for it if they don't.

Outsourcing is fine but in my circles the responsibility for finding a good cleaner and making sure they do a good job still seems to automatically sit with the woman!

Benjispruce Tue 13-Aug-19 08:03:12

In my house it’s because I have higher standards than DH. I want it done before he has noticed any untidiness. I’m happy with that as he does lots of other things I don’t notice regarding the garden, car, DIY.

SomeonesRealName Tue 13-Aug-19 08:03:37

The split has shifted in our house since we outsourced cleaning - and yes I do the management of the contract. There's a lot of work involved in getting the house ready for a clean, about 2 hours tidying normally. I have ended up doing it all because DH is of the view that it's not necessary. It's hard going and normally has to be done in the morning before work. Basically we've outsourced his share of the work and not mine - but we split the bill.

Benjispruce Tue 13-Aug-19 08:05:16

What matters to me is that it’s my choice. DH is happy to do housework, cook, and irons his shirts. If I was told I had to do it , I would feel differently.

madeyemoodysmum Tue 13-Aug-19 08:11:57

I do feel it should be down to leisure hours achieved more than finances.
Looking after kids isn’t paid but it’s hard work all the same.
I work very part time one long day a week so 6/7 days I’m home
Therefore I do nearly all cleaning washing and holiday packing Xmas birthday sorting etc I also sometimes do the lawns

This is because I still have tonnes of leisure time. I have time to swim gym . See friends relax etc. Dh only gets weekends and a few hours a night.

He still does washing up. Cooking and at weekends he will strip beds do gardening Diy jobs if needed.

I’m very happy with the arrangements I’m not stressed. I get leisure time and I’d rather we relaxed at weekends.

madeyemoodysmum Tue 13-Aug-19 08:17:11

Oh. My kids are teens do not as exhausting as young ones not at school. Mentally frustration yes but not physically tiring grin

notso Tue 13-Aug-19 08:28:19

I'm a SAHM with a husband who works away. I do all the housework, DC do bits and bobs but the bulk is me. DH does some things when he's here but obviously we prioritise family time when we're all together. I'm not going to leave him with a weeks worth of vacuuming or laundry to do just so I feel he has done his bit.

If I was working I'd have to do all the housework as well because I'd still be the only one here to do it.
I suppose I could hire a cleaner, although that's not dependant on me getting a job I could pay for one now but there would still be a lot for me to do.

MoreProseccoNow Tue 13-Aug-19 09:32:32

My "D"P has just been out of work for 6 months following redundancy.

During this time at home, he has done minimal amounts of cooking, laundry, cleaning etc. Whilst I have been working & out the house 40 hours a week.

No interest, ownership or effort from him.

It has totally killed my feelings for him.

Sadly, I know very few couples where domestic work is shared equally; in these couples the woman is the main earner, interestingly.

TipseyTorvey Tue 13-Aug-19 11:39:34

DH and I both ft, both contribute equally financially . I do loads more housework than he does but still nothing compared to friends I know with routines and immaculate houses. Luckily I work from home a couple of days a week so can do laundry and get the robo vac set off in room after room. I don't fall out with him because he does dull stuff I hate like manage and collate the credit card bills and research holidays or DIY, mow the lawn. He does one off things that need a lot of effort and attention. I decided a long time ago that whilst my standards are low, his are even lower and he just doesn't SEE mess, nor does it bother him so I can either spend my time asking him to do something or just crack on. He does 50 50 childcare stuff and of course his own laundry/ironing, so it kind of works. If he had high expectations of a perfect house and THEN didn't clean then we'd have issues.

MiniMum97 Tue 13-Aug-19 13:24:47

I completely agree with @sleepyhead My husband is pretty domesticated. He does loads. However it's always me that gets anxious if the place is messy or not clean if people are coming over. He's not worried. I feel it would be me that is viewed badly if the house is dirty not my husband.

He also doesn't notice the details (despite being a details person!) so won't notice if the window frames or skirting boards need cleaning for example. He also has no sense of smell!

Have you noticed how many people on this thread say "my husband is good" or similar with reference to their partner doing their share of housework. You don't ever say that about a woman! "Oh yes she's good, she does all the washing up and the laundry and even notices when the kitchen floor needs a clean!" Lol!

KatharinaRosalie Tue 13-Aug-19 16:09:39

Diy, car maintenance, mowing lawns, putting bins out are often suggested as taking similar time to cleaning

Suggested by whom? They certainy do not take the same time as cleaning, cooking, laundry and all the other 1001 jobs traditionally done by men. It takes a minute per week or thereabouts to put the bins out..

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