His and Her Workload: Conflicts in Equality

By  Jeanne Corrigan

Time magazine ran a recent cover story called “Chore Wars” about the division of labor in married couples and how men may finally be matching up with women on workload hours.  The article cited multiple studies that have shown that when all hours of “work” (both paid work outside the home as well as housework and child care) are accounted for, the totals for men and women are nearly equal. This was true for couples with and without children, and it contradicts the conventional wisdom that women carry a significantly greater portion of the workload than their working husbands.

There are a few questions rolling around in my head after reading the article:

While it’s clear that both women and men work hard, does some of women’s belief that they do more stem from the fact that work hours at the office and work hours at home have different demands and rewards?

  • Moms with full-time jobs, particularly those with young children, do in fact have the largest total workloads. And women may perceive that they are doing more because they have the bigger share of hours doing chores and caring for the kids than their partners, in addition to paid hours at the office. While they probably feel it’s important that a parent be at home and spend that time with their kids, working moms often feel unappreciated and exhausted in the short run as a result.

Is it any wonder that many working dads feel like they just can’t win?

  • Studies are showing that men feel more and more conflicted in the role of provider and involved father.  A report from the Families and Work Institute speaks to the pressure men are experiencing, citing that 68% have experienced problems with their employer because of conflicts between their job and their duties as a parent, and 72% report that their income would decline if they worked fewer hours.
  • So while wives want their husbands to come home earlier and help on the home front, the husbands are concerned about the impact that could have on their career, and their ability to provide for the family.

Are these couples talking to each other clearly and realistically about how their family is going to manage work-life balance?

  • While it’s a complicated issue, I do think a lot of the conflict comes from unmet (or unstated) expectations. The bottom line seems to be that whoever is the primary financial provider for the family will likely spend more hours at work. Historically, this provider role has primarily been the husband’s but that is one more element in this equation that is in transition.

It’s clearly a complicated issue and the household dynamic continues to evolve and change. It’s important to look at the reality of the situation and appreciate each person’s contribution but it seems to me that there’s a lot more to reaching equality than just balancing total hours worked.

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