Still working it out

In their paper on ‘total work’, Dan Hamermesh and coauthors add up market and household work, and point out that in rich countries on four continents, there is no difference — men and women do the same amount of total work. When I blogged on this last year, I even showed the graphical pattern of results for Australia, which look strikingly symmetrical. In their writeup, Hamermesh and coauthors modestly point out that sociologists seem to have known about this result for years, but it appears new to economists.

Well, maybe not all sociologists. Here’s one Australian sociologist, commenting today on the fact that women do more household work than men.

“The headline story here is it’s still unequal,” said Gabrielle Meagher, professor in social policy at the University of Sydney. “Women are still doing twice as much as men.”

* Admittedly, the Hamermesh papers uses 1992 data for Australia, while the quote relates to the 2006 time use survey. But in the absence of any evidence that the pattern of ‘total work’ has shifted, I’m inclined to assume that the 1992 finding still holds.

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16 Responses to Still working it out

  1. If ordinary people agree that soemthing they observe daily is true, then oone should be wary to conclude, it is wrong, if one fails to find it in aggregate statistics. I see the explanation in a re-interpretation of the following result from the study:
    “Taking a different view of these results, one might follow the literature on household behavior (see, e.g., Lundberg and Pollak, 1996) and view the gender relative wage as measuring gender differences in power in the household. By this criterion we should expect that where the male-female pay gap is higher we would observe men enjoying relatively more leisure. The estimates in Table 4 imply exactly the contrary results. Where one might infer that men have more power, as measured by relative wages, they also work relatively more in total compared to women.”
    Let us reinterpret this: The man makes a lot of money, the woman does not work in the market and has most of the household work done by maids. These women pull down the average of total work for woman. Now look at couples there the man has a medium to low market wage and cannot afford a trophy wife. I bet the result will be that women work significantly more than men in this group. This is the group that we think of, if asked to guess who works more.

  2. conrad says:

    There’s a reason sociology has pretty much dissappeared from the Australian university scene (and almost everything else, excluding a few institutions that have a monopoly, for that matter) in the last two decades, and its not because these guys have traditionally cared about anything close to the facts (in many areas — education is another really good example — its also full of crackpots that don’t care about the facts). Perhaps thats the real story of what ordinary people believe, and I imagine it would now take a huge amount of work to fix. Its a little bit sad really — what should be a good area of scientific inquiry is basically full of people with ideological agendas that don’t care about reality. Be glad that economists are basically taking over the area. It will be interesting to see if sociolgy completely dissappears as a separate discipline in Australia in the future. It isn’t hard to imagine it being taken over by other departments in many places (perhaps it will end up being and offshoot of economics or psychology).

  3. Sinclair Davidson says:

    I think Gabrielle’s an economist (unless there are two Gabrielle Meaghers). She gave a seminar at RMIT a few years ago on this topic (as I recall). It was well attended and generated a lot of discussion – her feminist-economic persepective was very different from our usual seminars presenters. I really enjoyed it, but perhaps some of my (more defensive) male colleagues didn’t.

  4. The ABS 2006 time use survey which came out this week also shows that men and women on average do exactly the same amount of work per day, if you include paid work, domestic work, childcare and purchasing goods and services. If you take out the last category, on the grounds that some of it is leisure, men work more.

    However, women tend to have slightly less free time, because they spend longer on personal care and do more voluntary work.

  5. Sinclair Davidson says:

    What about childcare? Doesn’t spending quality time with the children count as leisure?

  6. conrad says:

    You need to stick to the definition SD — otherwise it becomes hopeless (quality and whether you enjoy what you are doing don’t count — you might enjoy gardening and you might neccesarily not need to do it, for example, but it’s still housework). It’s always one of the problems with these arguments — lots of people wouldn’t agree on the validity of the categories unless work is a homonym that refers to two meanings (work in the traditional sense and work as redifined to include many altruistic acts towards your parter/family and the government) and that adding the two categories together is fine. Personally, my feeling is that including any interactions you have with your children as work (say, putting them to sleep), for example, devalues children, as it makes children seem like parasites that you have either for your partner or the government, versus something you might do for other reasons (cf. who in their right mind would do something that would force them to work for free over their lifespan (i.e., slavery) ? ). It also makes altruistic acts you might do for your partner (say, the washing-up), seem like a reciprocal trade of labor. So whilst I think things like the distribution of tasks are important in relationships, I think defining them as work isn’t a great idea.

  7. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Conrad – I agree. There are also issues relating to comparative advantage (even absolute advantage) that these sorts of things ignore.

  8. Patrick says:

    My sex does bloody more in my household 🙂

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  10. backroom girl says:

    Sinclair and Conrad

    On the other hand, though, the reason that on average women do less paid work than men does have quite a lot to do with the amount of time that they spend performing altruistic acts for their partner and children – many of which are quite hard work. To take the most extreme example, would you really define caring for a significantly disabled partner or child as non-work simply because someone is doing it out of love or a sense of obligation?

    Personally, while I think it is unwise of women to sacrifice too much their longer term financial independence for the sake of having more time to spend on child care and household tasks in the short term, I can understand why many make the choice. I don’t spend a lot of time feeling sorry for them though, since I believe in most cases it is a choice, rather than something foisted on them by men or society in general.

    We are only talking averages though – as Norbert pointed out, the average across the population as a whole doesn’t say much about equality within households.

  11. backroom girl says:

    And Sinclair, while I agree that counting ‘quality time’ with children as work rather than leisure might not make sense, all I can say is that if all your interactions with your children qualify as quality time, you must have much higher quality children than I do. 🙂

    Now all we have to do is help the ABS work out how to define and measure quality time. Should be simple really

  12. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Of course, it’s all in the genes or something 🙂

    More seriously, I’m not convinced at all that this sort of thing adds much value.

  13. christine says:

    Re Patrick: Well, my sex does more in my household. And I find it especially upsetting that I can’t even rely on the traditional male/female (not to mention Canadian/Australian) breakdown and get my husband to shovel the bloody snow!


  14. Andrew Leigh says:

    Christine, as regards snow-shovelling, this NYT article may be of interest.

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  16. christine says:

    Andrew, That was just mean. Really really mean. 🙂

    The lack of pools in North America is a bit hard for me to fathom. Must admit, though, that there’s a certain charm to swimming while watching the snow fall outside.

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