How do spouses coordinate and enact different patterns of household labor? How do family systems operate to sustain particular distributions of labor? Among couples we studied, on average, men worked longer hours outside the home, yet even in families where women worked equivalent or longer hours and earned higher salaries they still took on more household responsibilities.
When our data were merged with the Chicago Sloan Study of working families, we learned that men spent 18 percent of their time doing housework and took on 33 percent of household tasks, whereas women spent 22 percent of their time on housework and carried out 67 percent of household tasks. Women performed over twice the number of tasks and assumed the burden of "mental labor" or "invisible work," that is, planning and coordination of tasks. Moreover, leisure was most frequent for fathers 30 percent and children 39 percent and least frequent for mothers 22 percent.
In our study we categorized household work into three activities: 1 household maintenance e. While men spent slightly more of their time on household maintenance tasks 4 vs. Women on average spent 39 percent of their time on these activities, compared to 23 percent for men. Women prepared 91 percent of weekday and 81 percent of weekend dinners, even though fathers were present at 80 percent of weekday and 88 percent of weekend dinners.
Overall, women spent much more of their time cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children, compared to their husbands. Women also spent more time multitasking, often juggling meal preparation with cleaning tasks and childcare. Although our quantitative findings replicate the well-documented disparity in the division of labor between men and women, we also found that the nuanced ways couples interact with one another about and during these tasks were linked to the couples' relationship satisfaction and sense of well-being.
More than constituting a series of simple instrumental tasks, household work represents a complex set of interpersonal exchanges that enable family members to achieve or fail to achieve solidarity and cohesiveness. While watching television on a Saturday morning, John kicks back in a lounge chair as his wife, Susannah, sits on the couch folding laundry and talks on the telephone to arrange a play date for their eight-year-old son.
At one point, their one-year-old daughter cries for Susannah's attention, and she puts down the clothes to pick her up. Hanging up the telephone, she goes into the kitchen to start preparing a meal. Previously in an interview Susannah described how she holds down a full-time job while also handling most of the household work and the childcare—even when John is home:.
According to Susannah, while her husband has time to pursue his own interests, she views herself as the only member of the family who must continually sacrifice her well-being for the needs of others. Having time for oneself is equated with "having a life," and not only does this mother feel that she has neither, but she does not foresee any changes on the horizon. The strong sense of being burdened that Susannah expressed was not unusual among the women in our study.
Although working women's feelings of being overwhelmed is well documented, in some cases men are also often highly stressed by managing everyday household decisions and prioritizing the needs of family members. Travis, the father of two boys ages two and a half and eight, laments the constant demand of "managing someone else's needs," specifically, being unable to fulfill the "demands" of his wife, which often comes at the expense of his own health.
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He talks about his concerns as he spontaneously interviews himself in front of a video camera, which we provided to him for conducting a self-guided home tour:. You'll notice when I'm walking around the house that, um, there's basically very little respite for me. It's all about, um, managing someone else's needs most of the time, and admittedly, I'm not as strong and caring of my own needs, but I see that my own physical health is being compromised by not doing that, so, um, I'm starting to do more of that, which of course leads to aggravation from my demanding wife, um, by not paying attention to her and not fulfilling her needs.
So I think my house kind of represents, um, work. And my workplace kind of represents rest in a certain way. This perspective on the workplace as a sanctuary reflects the phenomenon discussed by sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild, who found that for working parents one's job offered a less stressful environment than life at home. Travis and his wife, Alice, discussed their perspectives on their domestic lives in an interview.
Alice explained that she and Travis have different orientations to handling household tasks: she recognizes that she is an "accomplisher" who can be "domineering" and less "easygoing" than Travis. Alice then elaborated on the consequences of these differences:. From Alice's perspective, the need to push Travis stems from her belief that it is the only way to make sure that chores will get done. Alice and Travis expressed having divergent needs and expectations of what is necessary for running a household successfully. They have different ideas about how to organize their everyday lives, and they debate these approaches throughout the interview.
Travis: I mean, she's no—she's not a saint in terms of keeping the place clean and, uh, fixing stuff or—she doesn't fix anything. Travis: I know, but just for the—don't you think that there's—you know that little board we have on the refrigerator? Alice: To be honest with you, I don't want to have to tell you to do stuff.
I want you to figure out that the—that the dishwasher needs to be—that you need to figure it out that the dishwasher needs to be—. Alice: No, you ordered a part, and then six months went by and we don't know what happened to it. I don't want to be, like, micro-managing you. Anyway, that's a whole other story. Alice's frustration is evident in the content of her utterances and in her demeanor during the interview. Her tone of voice is tense and defiant as she expresses her exasperation.
In the first several lines, she emphasizes that she "can't do it all," repeating the words can't and don't want to throughout the excerpt. During this exchange it becomes clear that Alice does not wish to constantly remind Travis what to do around the house. Perhaps as a way to distance himself from the nagging he experiences, Travis suggests that Alice post notes on the refrigerator, listing tasks that need to be done. She responds that she would prefer that he "figure it out," indicating, once again, her desire for him to take initiative without her constant input, or as she refers to it, "micro-managing," an approach that does not work for either of them.
For Travis, Alice's micro-managing is problematic because it does not occur only when something needs to be done; it permeates almost every moment of his waking life. He comments on his wife's continual negative appraisals and states that there is a great deal of "punitive language coming my direction. Several findings stand out from the above excerpts. First, the burden spouses experience managing household responsibilities interferes with individual well-being and expressions of intimacy.
Spouses spontaneously mention the struggles they experience in their relationship over the allocation and completion of chores, and when they reflect on the division of labor in their families they sometimes couch their arrangement in terms of trust e. I want my partner to prompt me when tasks need attention. Housework appears to be far more than the mere completion of tasks needed to keep the family running smoothly.
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It also colors individuals' daily experiences and appears to affect how couples characterize their partnership. While several of the spouses in our sample expressed frustration regarding household division of labor, some couples seemed to be particularly skilled at smoothly accomplishing domestic tasks. A study of the couples preparing dinner together revealed a variety of interactional styles, including 1 "silent collaboration," in which both partners worked in the same space and went about the task at hand; 2 "one partner as expert," in which one spouse was considered an expert or authority in a particular task, either humorously or with genuine respect; 3 "coordinating together," in which partners verbally organized the activity in concert; and 4 "collaborating apart," in which partners carried out their share of the labor in separate locations.
When coordinating together, couples displayed how they related to and treated one another in the midst of carrying out domestic tasks. In the following example, one couple collaborates harmoniously as they unwind after work one evening. As the dinner preparation begins, Adam has just put on a jazz CD and offers his wife, Cheryl, something to drink he uses her nickname, "Sweeps".
Adam displays his attentiveness to his wife as he uses a term of endearment and pours her a glass of wine. This couple often made dinner together, alternating who took the lead. At one point while Adam is out on the patio barbecuing chicken, Cheryl comes out to offer to help. In these exchanges we see that each spouse is trying to anticipate each other's needs regarding the task at hand, as well as attending to other features of the setting and concurrent activities.
Adam opens a bottle of his wife's favorite wine and turns on music they enjoy; Cheryl asks about helping with the food preparation and checks with her husband on where he would prefer her to put the newspaper he had been reading. When couples coordinate together, however, there is also the potential for counter-collaborative communication, which may produce tension and lead to conflict. In the following example, David is preparing dinner, which is particularly challenging for him since he only recently began to take on cooking responsibilities.
He attempts to appease his wife, Julie's, numerous queries, demands, and requests, which target him repeatedly throughout the dinner-making activity. When David acknowledges that he is "making such a mess," Julie confirms and generalizes his assessment to all the occasions on which he takes on meal preparation. Her next comment, "It's like you don't know how to cook," is a further critique of his poor performance. David calmly accepts her condemnation and even finds his performance humorous. The No Procrastination Challenge.
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