Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Housework and a Missing Variable

This recent study purports to indicate that getting married adds housework for women but saves it for men. Which is not surprising. It also indicates that when there are more than three children, married women do a lot more housework than men and men do a lot less. But what is not indicated is rather important - I think the missing variable here is whether the increased housework is because a spouse is stay-at-home. Women are still more likely than men to be the stay-at-home spouse.

Presumably, when one spouse stays home, that spouse will do additional housework - that's part of the "benefit" of staying home - you don't need to hire someone else to take care of things around the house - or have less need for it - if one person is home all day, particularly when at least some of the kids are also gone during the day at school. You also have less money when only one parent works, so you'd be less able to hire additional help. I mention this in relation to the study because I have to bet that if you have more than three kids, someone is staying home with them, because the cost of daycare and other things gets so high that unless you make a very high salary, it is cheaper to stay home. I'm a lawyer and I make a reasonably decent salary and I hit the break-even point with just two kids. With three, I'd actually lose money by working at my current salary when you factor in the cost of daycare and the marriage penalty. My wife makes double what I make, so with three kids, I'd definitely be staying home. As it is, with two kids, I may be home for a while after my current job expires.

One other comment I just had to make after reading that article - my wife generates far more housework for me than I have ever made for her. I used to do all of the laundry. She does some of it now simply because she generates so much of it and is home all day with the newborn - we seem to average two loads a day, sometimes three. Most of it probably unnecessary. Generally, I come home after work now to find a load in the washer and a load in the dryer and I usually end up being the one to empty them and then fold and put the clothes away. There are also usually piles of dirty dishes, enough that I wonder if there was a party or something because my wife has the special talent of generating at least four times the dirty dishes of your average person, and helps my daughter do the same. In sum, my wife staying home right now (on maternity leave) is actually increasing the amount of housework I have to do and I'm the one going to work. I'll be so relieved when she starts back to work again - less work for me!


E said...

I think there is probably part of the housework formula where you have to factor in number of people-hours spent at home. If you're not home as much, the house doesn't get as dirty, but if you're home all day the chores seem to multiply. Especially when those hours are babies and toddlers.

Another factor I think is the "fire under your ass" principle. Imagine you both get home, kids in tow, at 5:30 on Friday night, and you've got company coming over at 7. It's amazing how quickly housecleaning can get done when it's simply got to be done now. But when you have all day to get in a few tasks, it's equally amazing how at dinnertime you can realize you never got around to that one chore and think, "oh, man, where did the time go?" That is pretty much the story of every summer when I don't have to work.

E said...

Or maybe you could take a feminist read on it, and stop pigeonholing the womyn in your life into a traditional gender-normative role of housekeeping and child-rearing, continuing the patriarchal legacy of our euro-centic forefathers.

And maybe she should be allowed to drive the bus now, or something.

DBB said...

Yeah, there is the general rule that work expands to fill the time available. Usually, when I get home, I can do a marathon cleaning/laundry folding/dish putting away session and in about 30 minutes do everything that wasn't done all day when my wife was home. Though the past few days I haven't been able to do it because I've been too exhausted after going to work and getting the toddler home while being sick.

I really don't ever think my wife will manage to create much less mess or clean it up as much as I do - that's just how she is. She has improved a bit over the years. When she lived on her own before we were married, well, you could have done science experiments in her kitchen sink and discovered new species.

What this means is that, relative incomes aside, really only I could be the one to stay at home, because otherwise, our house would eventually get so messy it would be sucked into a parallel universe.

Ooops, now I'm advocating the matriarchy, where men stay home and raise children while women bring home the bacon. I guess I can't drive the bus. (Though I do wonder how all these people keep saying they're under the bus)