Friday, January 22, 2010

Housework Logistics

I came across a study this week about how much housework academic scientists do. There are quite a few interesting statistics in the study- you should go read it and get the full story. The statistic that was highlighted in the news article that lead me to the study, and the statistic the study authors lead with, is this: partnered female scientists do 54% of the housework in their households, while partnered male scientists do only 28%. Even when the partners of the male scientists work, they male scientists do far less than 50% of the housework.

I doubt anyone is surprised by this statistic. I agree that it is unfair. But I am also inclined to think "so what?" It seems to me that the female scientists have it about right- housework should be split roughly 50-50 in a household in which both partners also work outside the home. The male scientists are getting a free ride on the housework, but it doesn't necessarily follow that they are spending that extra time on their science. For all we know, they are spending their extra time at the pub drinking beers. In fact, the study found that the men and women were spending roughly the same amount of time in the lab/office:

"Partnered science faculty in our sample average nearly sixty hours a week at work. Men and women scientists log the same number of hours (mean hours for men is 56.4, mean for women 56.3, and standard deviations—about 11—are the same as well)."

So this study just tells me that a woman who wants to work outside the home should be wary of marrying an academic scientist. Those dudes aren't pulling their fair share of the household chores, and their wives aren't getting their fair share of the time at the pub drinking beers. My take home message from this study is very similar to the advice I already give young women scientists who are wondering about how to balance career and home life- namely, to choose your partner carefully.

I actually find the 54% number heartening, even though a closer look at the numbers shows that the partners of these women are not actually doing 46% of the work- these couples are using paid help, such as cleaners, to fill the gap. Still, the numbers show a far more equitable distribution of household labor than what is normally presumed to happen. I have written before about how Hubby and I have a very equal split of household chores. Anytime I comment about this on a women in science blog, I get told that my arrangement is not normal. But these statistics indicate that there actually are other women scientists with a similar arrangement.

Another type of comment I've seen a lot on blog's like Female Science Professor is the plea for specifics. The writers of these comments want to know exactly how women with successful careers and "balanced" home lives arrange things. I have replied to these sorts of comments with the observation that the specifics are going to vary for different families. Heck, the specifics are varying within my family for different babies. The things we did to make our lives work when we had a baby who didn't sleep very well are different from what we're doing now, with a baby who sleeps pretty well and a toddler.

I still think that each family will need to work out the specifics for themselves, based on the constraints provided by their jobs, their children, and their tolerance for mess/dirt in the house. However, I thought I'd share one of the things that works really well for us. We use a chores schedule to make sure that Hubby and I are on the same page about what needs to get done and when, and to help us carve out some guilt-free time to not be doing chores.

Here's how it works: I (with input from Hubby) wrote up a schedule showing all of the recurring chores that need to get done. I also included opportunities to pull one time chores from our master to do list. Here is our current schedule:

Week 1 (Cleaner comes)Week 2Week 3Week 4
Mondayto do list chore or extra shoppingphotosclean bathroomsphotos
Tuesdaygarbage outgarbage outgarbage out, pay bills*garbage out
Wednesdayto do list chore or pay bills*to do list chore or pay bills*clean kitchen (cabinets, stove, etc)to do list chore or pay bills*
Thursdaygarage cleanup**Freeclean living room, sweep floorsFree
FridayFreephotosClean officephotos
WeekendOutside chores, water plants, meal plan, declutter, sort mail, grocery shopping, laundryOutside chores, water plants, meal plan, declutter, sort mail, grocery shopping, laundry + 1 deep clean choreOutside chores, water plants, meal plan, declutter, sort mail, grocery shopping, laundry + clean bedroomsOutside chores, water plants, meal plan, declutter, sort mail, grocery shopping, laundry

Every night: dishes, clean booster seat, sweep kitchen
As needed: Make bread (we have a breadmaker, and use it to keep Pumpkin supplied with the bread- often the only thing she'll eat from our dinner)

* pay bills 2x/month, on which ever weeks contain the 1st and the 15th
**run washer cleaning treatment, pick up clutter

Each night's chores are supposed to only take about 30 minutes to do. Every night, someone gives Pumpkin a bath, someone reads her stories, and then I snuggle her to sleep (this last step takes about 20-30 minutes). Petunia's bedtime is so easy that it doesn't figure into the planning- at about 6:45, I nurse her, burp her, and put her into her cosleeper, and then she falls asleep. (And no, I don't know why Petunia's bedtime is so easy. If I did, I'd write a book about it and get rich. I think we just got lucky.)

Whoever is not giving Pumpkin a bath either cleans up the kitchen or picks the chore from the schedule. The person giving the bath does the same once he or she is done with his/her part of the bedtime routine- if the kitchen is already clean, he/she does a chore. Otherwise, he/she cleans the kitchen. Sometimes it is obvious from the chore who needs to do the kitchen. For instance, on nights when "photos" is the chore, I clean the kitchen, because Hubby does the photos in our family.

There are also weekend chores, and obviously, someone has to cook dinner every night. Hubby does the yard work on the weekends, because I am quite allergic to a lot of things in the yard, like grass. I do the cooking during the week more often than Hubby, because I get home from work first. I also do the meal planning, because it makes Hubby really cranky to do it, and I don't usually mind.

This system works well for us. Hubby and I don't waste our precious "adults only" time after the girls are both in bed arguing about chores. We each know what needs to get done every night, so we don't waste time and energy figuring out what needs to be done. It is important that all of the recurring tasks that either partner considers a chore must be on the schedule. This ensures that there are no problems where one person "sees" a chore that the other doesn't, and starts to get resentful because he/she is always doing that chore. It is also important to revisit the chores schedule from time to time, because things change. For instance, we suspect we'll need to add a mid-week load of laundry to the schedule once we're both back at work and no one is at home during the day to do a quick load of laundry to get us through to the weekend.

The system is not perfect, though. We're currently struggling to figure out how to make sure that we each get some nights off without having to discuss it- we want that to just happen automatically if we follow the schedule. Right now, since I always do the last step of Pumpkin's bedtime, I find that I tend to feel like I should be doing a chore- I can't goof off until that night's chores are done. Therefore, I don't get many nights off. And everyone needs a night off now and then. Because if you work your fingers to the bone, and what do you get? Boney fingers.

(My Mom used to play this song while we cleaned the house. I plan to do the same for my kids some day.)


  1. Thanks for posting this. I just read The Second Shift and was feeling gloomy so it's nice to see an example of how sharing the work equally can work.

  2. I think that those statistics show a larger issue, which is the generally male chauvanistic attitude of the men in science academia. Let's me honest, the world we live in and the scientific community is still a patriarchal one. So if the men at the top see the household work as women's work (as evidenced by their doing on 28% and expecting their significant others to be doing the rest), then how does that attitude about women translate into the world of science and academia? I'm definitely making a leap here from the cold hard facts (if you can ever call statistics "facts"), but I think it is a valid line of thought.

    Hopefully by having more women in the science world and academia world showing that they split the household chores, others (men and women) will see this and begin to think in more terms of equality at home and in the lab.

    There is progress. And with men like your husband and mine, we can help set a good example!

  3. "Choose your partner carefully" is hands down the best LIFE advice ever, no matter what field you're in. So true. I have seen too many women's careers and lives utterly derailed by their male spouses' shitty passive aggressive behavior and sense of entitlement. Balancing the housework, in theory, should not be such a crucial happiness issue and yet there is no doubt it is. Don't know what the solution is there.

  4. That's interesting.

    My husband is gone three days of each week and so I do everything then, and most of it when he's not here, though he does some more intensive projects when necessary. I'm happywith the split. If I ask him to do something, he does it, even if he wouldn't necessarily think to do it on his own.

  5. My husband and I have a truly 50-50 share of running the household, and we're both scientists. We aren't anywhere as organized as you are, but our basic rule is that when one of us is doing a chore, the other one is. We only 'goof off' (and this includes doing work work in the evenings) together. Basically while the boys are awake, one of us is either watching them, or making dinner/cleaning up/doing laundry/something productive. Sometimes we'll watch boys and do a chore, but that's gravy. For bedtime, I do bath while he cleans up, I put them down while he does laundry. After they're asleep we usually do our work work, but sometimes we'll (both) decide to do chores like the photos, cooking, vacation planning or whatnot.

    Weekends we have fun together as a family, do the shopping, or switch off for more intense home maintenance type chores, where it helps to have the boys out of the house. We also take turns on weekends going for a long run or bike ride.

    This system doesn't really capture the mental planning tasks, but I feel those are pretty evenly divided as is.

  6. @zed- we used to have an arrangement like yours. But then I never seemed to get time off. My Hubby is just too happy to do chores, I think. He thinks that is what weekends are for, and is a bit puzzled by my idea that we should get to goof off. So we formalized a schedule to try to find a balance.

    And you know what horrifies me the most about that 28% statistic? The fact that I KNOW there are some male academic scientists out there doing 50% of the chores. Which means that either the study has a huge sampling error, or that there are a lot of male academic scientists doing almost no chores. I suspect the latter.

  7. Well, I hate to say it, but it's up to women to insist on equality or else nothing will ever change. In our house the solution to finding equality has been to break the chores up into pairs (like Vacuum or Mop?) that represent fairly equal tasks. Whoever made the chore pair up, allows the other to pick which they'd rather do.
    He makes chores pairings too and so sometimes I'm met with options I really don't want to do (does anyone actually LIKE changing the toilet wax ring?), but it's very equitable.

  8. OMG My mom used to sing that song, too, all the time. Thank you for reminding me. I would love to teach it to the kids!

    I'm married to an engineer and he is an enormous help but he's also very absent-minded and can't see concrete things that need doing. He's operates more on the abstract plane though he can wire the house and fix lights.

    So if something obviously needs doing it's not obvious to him so I end up doing it because I can do it faster and it takes too much energy to explain everything.

    Stuff like dishes he can do because there is only one cycle, one detergent. But he can't deal with the clotheswasher because there are too many options and soaps and compartments to put them in...

    Our set-up is he picks up the kids from school, watches them until I get home, does all the cooking and grocery shopping and I do everything that has to do with play and care of the children (play, bath, pjs, brushing, storytime, bedtime...)

    I cherish being able to spend the minute I get home to the time they go to bed with the kids and not having to deal with dinner and chores. Now that they are older and more autonomous I do more chores in the evening before they go to bed. Because our one rule is once the kids go to bed it's adult time and no work. Just play :)

  9. I think my hubby is pretty atypical for an Italian. He grew up in a household with a mother with a cleaning disorder and so has always contributed in a big way to the cleaning. In fact I often think he may have inherited some of his mother's dash for cleaning and organisisng.

    He is away 13 hours a day for work, I'm a SAHM, but when he is at home it's pretty much 50/50. My only beef is that becasue of the above I do almost 100% of the childcare during the weekend ( the kids are usually already in bed when hubby comes home). Weekends he contributes to the housework the gardening and outside stuff and I still get the kids. I wish he'd contribute a little less to the house and a little more to the kids.

  10. Anonymous1:19 PM

    "because Hubby does the photos in our family.

    I don't understand what this means. What exactly is being scheduled?

  11. @anon- we put our photos online in a format we control on a server we control for sharing with our family. Uploading and captioning those photos is pretty time consuming (but worth it to us), so it is a chore in our chore schedule.

    Specifically, he is pulling photos from our camera, deleting the ones we don't need to keep, uploading them to our server and writing captions for them.

  12. I had an aha about the photos and the bill-paying. We don't consider photos a chore YET that's why I feel I don't have much down-time :)


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