When it comes to household chores, most men share the philosophy of a youth pastor at a former church — “Start slow and then ease up.”
I’m not very good at most household tasks and that’s the truth, although I am not above occasionally feigning incompetence to avoid work. My wife Diane and I have divvied up our chores, but I’m under no delusion that I do anywhere as much work as she does.
Although I am betraying my gender, I’d have to agree that the stereotype of the “lazy husband” is pretty accurate, at least based on my own behavior and that which I’ve observed in others.
Household chores are a major source of conflict in most relationships. A 2007 Pew Survey asked married couples, “What makes marriage work?” Sharing chores came in third, behind faithfulness and sex. The Boston Consulting Group also asked couples what they argued most about and chores were the second most frequent topic, ranking just behind money.
Men and women have very different perspectives on household chores. In a 1999 MSNBC survey, 74 percent of men said that the household chores were equally shared; while only 51 percent of women agreed. Only a quarter of men said that all the household chores were done by one person, but twice as many women felt this was true.
Recently several research studies have been published which question the notion of the “lazy husband.” In an Aug. 8 Time Magazine cover story titled, “Chore Wars”, writer Ruth Davis Konigsberg describes the history of the “the lazy husband.”
Back in the 1960s, Nobel prize winning economist Gary Becker predicted that as women gained greater access to the work force, there would eventually be a point in which the genders would equally divide making money outside the home and doing household chores.
However, by 1989, despite the growing number of two-career families, the predicted march toward equity stalled. University of California sociologist Arlie Hochschild interviewed 50 two-career families in depth and summarized her research in a popular book entitled the “Second Shift.”
She concluded that although women entered the paid work force, in most cases they remained the primary home worker, in what she called the “second shift.” This “second shift”, consisting mostly of parenting and housework, added up to about 15 additional hours of work each week for women.
In many families Hochschild studied, there was a lopsided division of labor, in which the husband took responsibility for some narrowly defined task — making pies, maintaining the car or caring for the dog — which was inexplicably interpreted as balancing out the myriad of other domestic tasks assigned to the wife. Both husbands and wives conspired to rationalize such arrangements as being fair. Also in most instances the wife’s paid work was seen as “just a job” while the husband’s was seen as a “career.”
All of this reinforced the already suspected stereotype of “the lazy husband.” Since 1989, however, at least three major studies have re-examined the second shift conclusions.
When all types of paid and unpaid work are accounted for, men apparently make more of a contribution than they are usually credited, according to a study at the London School of Economics. The study found that women tended to reduce their paid work hours after having children, while men often compensate by working additional hours. British men and women were both found to work an average of only eight total hours a day in both paid and unpaid work.
London School of Economics sociologist Catherine Hakim has said, “This data overturns the well-entrenched theory that women work disproportional long hours in jobs and at home in juggling family and work”
An American study yielded similar results, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that when all work hours were combined, American women averaged eight hours and 11 minutes a day and American men averaged eight hours and three minutes. For couples with children, women had an additional 20 minutes of work each day that men did not have. Women still did the vast majority of cooking, housework, and childcare, but men did almost twice as much paid work.
The amount of time men participated in domestic chores like cooking, housework and child care also has significantly increased since 1965. For example, the time fathers spend in child care has almost tripled since 1965, but it is only 6.4 percent of their time, compared to mother’s 12 percent.
Data on working hours from a third study at the University of Michigan is consistent with the other studies. Author Warren Farrell says that this study argues against the notion of “the second shift woman and the shiftless man.”
Despite all this evidence of equity, why am I still unconvinced? First of all, this whole field is riddled with complications. There is the glaring fact that all work is not created equal, as both men and women consider housework less desirable than paid work. Also, is that extra time men spent on the job actually comparable to the domestic work in which women are engaged? Are American men staying late at the office, gossiping with friends or playing fantasy football just to avoid housework or childcare?
There is also the fact that women frequently multitask, combining childcare with recreational and other household activities. How is this work time classified? And lets face it, you can goof off on a paid job and often get away with it , but not so with domestic work. It still has to get done.
San Francisco psychologist Joshua Coleman also believes there are still plenty of lazy husbands around and has written “The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework,” in which he offers practical advice for wives with recalcitrant husbands.
Coleman describes three basic types of lazy husbands, 1. The Boy-Husband, who wants to be taken care of and pretends to be incompetent. Ultimately he’s just another child to care for; 2. The Perfectionist Husband. This type wants the house and kids to be perfect, but won’t help. We knew a fellow who insisted that his wife completely clean out the refrigerator every week, which I think is not only grounds for divorce, but also for justifiable homicide; and 3. The Angry Husband. This type keeps his wife at bay with rage and intimidation.
Coleman says that lazy husbands’ need to experience the natural consequences of their lack of responsibility. He advises wives who want their husbands to share responsibility to be assertive, communicate clearly, and with their spouses, jointly develop a plan for completing chores.
I’m only hoping that those three fudge and two peanut butter pies that I make each year pretty much make up for the rest of my slacking off.
Based on an article that originally appeared in the Southern Indiana News-Tribune
Note: The original version of this article was criticized for ignoring the fact that many women simply choose not to work, as well as the anger that some women show when men have meager incomes and still refused to help with housework. I have been called ” a man who wants female approval so much that he is willing to always throw men under the bush [sic]”. I can only say, “Duh!”