Closing the Chore Gap

When you add up paid and unpaid work, it's women, not men, who put in the longer hours, largely because women tend to do more than their fair share of chores and childrearing. But it's in men's best interest, as well as women's, to close this "chore gap."

  • Share
  • Read Later
Getty Images

The so-called Second-Shift isn’t just a figment of the imagination of working women irritated that they have to nag their husbands to do their fair share of the chores.

A new study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that across the developed world, women do far more of the unpaid domestic work that keeps households running, even when they’re also putting in many hours at work. Men, it’s true, tend to put in more hours at jobs than women do, but when you add together the total number of hours of work, both paid and unpaid, women worked more than men in all but a handful of the developed countries the OECD included in its analysis.

In the US, the difference in total time worked is significant but not enormous:  On average, women put in 21 minutes a day more at work and at home than men do (which, coincidentally, is also the average for all OECD countries surveyed). The real difference is between paid and unpaid work — what you might call the “chore gap.” American men put in about 5 hours a day on the job; women put in four. But women make up the difference and then some at home, putting in a little over 4 hours on housework and childcare, compared to only 2.7 hours for men. The work of raising children still falls overwhelmingly to mothers, not fathers.

(MORE: More Women Are In the Workforce — So Why Are They Still Doing So Many Chores?)

The problem here goes well beyond resentment over who’s been doing their fair share of the dishes. The gender gap in total hours worked, and even more so the vast differences between men and women in paid and unpaid work, help to perpetuate some persistent inequalities. Obviously, women who work fewer hours earn less; they also tend to earn less per hour and get fewer benefits. And it’s hard to put in the hours necessary to compete in high pressure jobs when you’re pulling double duty at home.

While (unsurprisingly) women spend more time doing domestic work than men in all OECD countries, it is somewhat surprising to see that the gender gap in total hours worked varies tremendously from country to country. In several countries, including Norway, the Netherlands, and New Zealand, men actually put in more hours overall, while in Portugal and India women put in a lot more time than men — roughly an hour and a half a day.

So why does the “chore gap” persist? Conservatives like to say it’s the result of choice: Women prefer to spend fewer hours at work and more at home with the children. And there’s evidence that seems to back this claim up: A Pew Research study from 2007 found that 60% of working mothers with young children preferred part-time work; among working fathers, only 12% wanted to work part-time.

(MORE: Why Men Are Attracted to High-Earning Women)

But such “choices” aren’t made in a vacuum; they’re made in a culture that still largely sees chores and childrearing as “women’s work.” There’s considerable pressure put on men and women to hew to traditional roles. Indeed, one study of middle-class workers by researchers at the University of Toronto and Long Island University (you can find a pdf of it here) found that “fathers who violate … gender stereotypes by actively caregiving for their families” faced harassment and mistreatment at work. Women who either had no kids, or who left the childrearing to their husbands, likewise faced harassment for deviating from the traditional women’s role.

On the flip side, there are rewards for men who challenge the stereotypes and do their fair share of the chores: A number of studies have found that this makes for happier wives, and more sex. And one recent study on gender inequality startled the researchers that conducted it when it revealed that housework makes men happy, too. According to a University of Cambridge press release on the study, researchers “expected to find that men’s work-family conflict rose, and their well-being fell, when they did more housework. In practice, they found the opposite, with conflict falling, and well-being going up.”

So it’s in men’s best interests, as well as women’s, to try to close the chore gap.

MORE: Kids Who Don’t Gender Conform Are at Higher Risk of Abuse


A recent 25-nation study by economists from Berlin, Brussels and Texas, which included rich and poor nations, found men do as much work as women when all types of work are combined.

A University of Maryland study found the total workloads of married mothers and fathers is roughly equal when paid work is added to child care and housework, at 65 hours a week for mothers and 64 hours for fathers.

A University of Michigan study found women work an average of 11 hours more housework per week more than men while men an average of 14 hours per week more than women outside the home.

Men spend much more time at work than women. According to Statistics Canada, men in 2005 spent on average 6.3 hours per day doing paid work as opposed to 4.4 for women. Yes, they did less unpaid work on average per day (2.5 hours per day versus 4.3), but it evens out. On average, men spent 8.8 hours and women did 8.7 hours per day of paid and unpaid work!

Women's 'double shift' of work and domestic duties a myth finds new research

Couples Who Share The Housework Are Actually More Likely To Get Divorced


TimeMachinist makes an excellent point that is often overlooked.  If men and women, on average, have different preferences for levels of neatness, then the mere fact of differences in time spent on household chores is not, in itself, evidence of exploitation, free-riding, or unfairness.  

This article also makes the common mistake of assuming a particular causal connection when all that the underlying studies show is statistical correlation.  The article says that men doing more housework "makes for happier wives, and more sex".  It also claims that housework makes men happier.  'Makes' is a causal word, but the studies establish only correlation.  Depressed men (and women) probably do less housework than those who are not depressed;  lethargy is part of the nature of depression.  And, the author might have as well recommended that wives who want their husbands to do more household work should initiate sex with them more often.  After all, these studies show that the husbands of wives who have sex with them more often do more household work.

No doubt, the causal stories are complex.  It's likely that couples who have good relationships both have sex more often and find it easier to share responsibilities as well as to communicate complaints about the sharing of work in ways that don't provoke defensiveness.  Perhaps men who are happier in their marriages spend more time at home and less time fishing, golfing, or at the local bar. Perhaps men whose wives are more willing to let men do household tasks in their own way, rather than assign them tasks and monitor how they do those tasks are both happier and do more household tasks.  (There is, by the way, evidence that women who feel that they need to control precisely how household and childcare tasks are done have less cooperation from their mates.)  And, in line with the author's preferred causal story, perhaps men how do more household chores make their wives happier and less stressed and this leads to  more sex.  Any, or all, of these hypotheses (and more) are consistent with the evidence.  And probably the full story, while different for different couples, often involves a complex interplay of different causal factors.  But the "if men do more household chores, they'll get more sex and be happier" theory--the only one suggested in this article-- oversimplifies matters without any strong empirical basis.  


Problem with this analysis is that after the divorce, men generally do even LESS housework.  Everybody is different, but statistically speaking, it may simply be that women prefer neatness whereas men prefer other applications of their time and attention.  If the woman seeks to be the absolute definer of what is right and fair, the man may not measure up.  And that may be unfair and wrong on her part as much as his.


I don't know what woman in the entire world would marry a fat loser feminist man who says he'll do all the housework. There is only one type of woman I can think of who would marry such a man, and that is a feminist woman who spent far too much time in liberal arts university learning nonsense and getting worthless liberal arts degrees.