Thursday, April 17, 2008

Boo Hoo, Wives Still Doing Housework

Oh my. In the year of Our Lord 2008, many poor, oppressed American wives are apparently still taking care of their homes. It's true! Thanks to some federally funded (Constitution? What's that?) busybodies researchers at the University of Michigan, we have the (latest) answer to the not-at-all-biased-toward-feminist-dogma question, "Exactly how much housework does a husband create?"

I know I probably shouldn't, but I'll take the bait. I'll even leave aside why anyone spends time "studying" such things -- really, who cares? -- as well as the incredible presumption of forcing taxpayers to subsidize it. I'll just try to bring a little common-sense perspective to the table, unburdened by Outrage!, or at least the heavily implied opprobrium.

Being of the lazy XY persuasion, I'll keep my critique as simple and short as possible, treating with this typically slanted "news" story about the dire findings of the study. First, the de rigeur breathless headline:

Getting Married Doubles A Woman's Housework, While Men Reap The Benefits
Oh noes! Tell my already indignant self more!
Getting married is a high point in most women's lives,
Such a high point that many choose to do it several times. Zing!
but it comes with at least one burden they may not have expected -- extra housework.
It seems counterintuitive to expect there would be less work to do around a house that has more than one person living in it, doesn't it?
According to a study from the University of Michigan, the average woman adds seven hours a week to her weekly burden simply by getting hitched.

But the man gets the best deal out of this equation, saving himself an hour of chores around the home.
The most obvious problem with these two paragraphs: What are we talking about here? We need to know the study's definition of housework, or burden, or chores, or whatever term is germane. Let's see if we get one.
The researchers note we've come a long way since the old days when necessities like cleaning the floors, doing the laundry or taking care of the kids was considered "woman's work."
That's a hint, but still not a hard definition.
But inequities remain.

"It's a well-known pattern," admits Frank Stafford, of the university's Institute for Social Research. "There's still a significant reallocation of labor that occurs at marriage -- men tend to work more outside the home, while women take on more of the household labour. And the situation gets worse for women when they have children."
Uh oh and whoops. Already this paragraph completely negates the thesis of this "news" story, as well as the study. Married men work more outside the home while married women do more of the still-undefined household stuff. Where's the inequity?
Stafford asked his subjects to keep a time diary about how they spent their hours, and questioned both sexes about the amount of cooking, cleaning and basic work they did keeping their houses in order.
That's a little better, but still not what you'd call a precise definition of housework. The actual study doesn't seem to be online, but UM's press release on the findings adds this: "Excluded from these 'core' housework hours were tasks like gardening, home repairs, or washing the car." I would just note two of those three excluded tasks are more often associated with men.
They discovered that single women only performed about 12 hours of chores a week. But their married counterparts, especially older females in their 60s and 70s, did twice that amount. Women with three kids spent a good 28 hours getting everything done they felt was needed. But for married men with the same number of children, the workload was just 10 hours.
It's noted later in passing both that men being physically home less contributes to them doing less housework (duh) and that more people in a house equals more to clean up (also duh). Some things not mentioned or considered (in the "news" story and press release, at least):
  1. Whether or not the single women rented and/or the married women owned their houses. Did the study screen for these factors to ensure a more apples-to-apples comparison? This is important as one naturally spends less time on housework when one rents. Why steam clean that carpet? It's not yours.

  2. The fact that, in general, single people just tend to "keep house" less. I've spent a long time being single, and I have both single and married friends and I can tell you, without a federally funded study, that married folks are much more likely to put more time and effort into homemaking than are single people, even if the single people own their houses. Could not this "nesting" instinct explain at least some of the discrepancy?

  3. "Getting everything done they felt was needed." In one of Dave Barry's books, probably Dave Barry's Guide to Marriage and/or Sex, he has a funny bit about the difference between the sexes when it comes to cleaning. Women, he says, are able to perceive individual molecules of dirt, whereas those molecules need to form a lumpish mass before men even notice them. This is a way of saying that many women's standards of "clean" are higher than those of many men's. That's all well and good and why I added the emphasis to "they felt was needed." In other words, another explanation for why married women may spend more time cleaning is because they simply have a more demanding definition of what constitutes "clean" than their husbands do.
Maybe the actual study takes such explanatory factors as the above into account, though I have my doubts based on the slant of the university's own press release about it.
It's only natural that kids translate into additional work, and the more people in a home the more work there will inevitably be for those who live there. But the researchers suggest that most of that burden still falls on women, and that men don't contribute as much mostly because they're absent at work.
Another case of the duhs.
Still, things have improved since they did a similar study in 1976. Back then, women were forced to perform about 26 hours of housework a week, while men contributed just six. Now the weight scales have balanced a bit, with wives averaging 17 hours and husbands about 13.
Good grief, just look at the ridiculous slant of this paragraph. Women "were forced to perform" the job of keeping a household, while men merely "contributed." And things have "improved" for whom? For example, a theoretical study showing the number of hours married men spend working outside the house might show a relatively stable pattern, but the married man of 2008 sees his wife spending nine hours less a week taking care of stuff while he's gone. Some improvement for him.
And those behind the numbers contend guys don't get off easy by getting married. Their workload increases once they're united in matrimony, and the wife says the inevitable 'Dear, got a minute?'"

"Marriage is no longer a man's path to less housework," Stafford concludes.
In other words, the conclusion is that wives are doing less and husbands are doing more, but the whole thrust of this piece is how awful it is that wives still have to do anything at all. Do I have this right?

I haven't even touched on the methodology of this study. Is it out of bounds to speculate on the truthfulness or accuracy of these "time diaries" that the researchers asked the subjects to keep? Given the incredible slant accorded to the findings, I can guess what the instructions might have looked like:

"Please indicate how many hours this week you spent picking up after that ungrateful, lazy slob you call a husband: ______"

And are there differences in how men and women might categorize what they consider housework and how much time they spend on it? It is easy to imagine men just, you know, doing stuff that needs to be done and forgetting about it while women meticulously make entries in their diaries. No way? Consider this statement from another study:
"Wives are surely sensitive to imbalances in routine tasks and efforts, as almost all research shows...." said study team member Steven Nock, a professor of sociology at University of Virginia."
Yes, I could imagine differing motivations in how time diaries are kept.

Anyway, the point isn't to denigrate wives or housework or marriage. It's to debunk the kind of "research" that reduces something as complex and personal as marriage to a matter of arbitrarily pre-selected bean counting. It's to point out the ludicrous ideological underpinnings of the alleged "science." It's to expose the blatantly biased "news" that emanates from this sort of tommyrot, "news" that oftentimes manages to become conventional wisdom.

On the contrary, the findings of this exercise in pure feminist-inspired indulgence are a classic example of what economist Thomas Sowell calls "Aha! statistics":
If you start out with a preconception and find numbers that fit that preconception, you say, "Aha!" But when the numbers don't fit any preconception ... then no "Aha!"
As for feminism itself, I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'll take the claims of feminism seriously when I see its apostles clamoring for more opportunities for female lumberjacks, coal miners, garbage collectors, and high-rise window washers. After four decades of spewing their poisonous hogwash, feminists still don't mind that kind of inequity.

My conclusion: Grab a mop and STFU.