National Survey of Families and Households Omits Data on Household Work Done by Men

In my piece on Alexa Aguilar’s article in the Chicago Tribune about Marc and Amy Vachon’s book and website promoting equal parenting, the writer, Alexa Aguilar, referred to figures on time spent compiled by the National Survey of Families and Households at the University of Wisconsin. Aguilar relied on the NSFH data for the proposition that men don’t do as much household work as women do.

(Of course she, like seemingly every other writer on the subject, neglected to mention that while women are doing childcare and housework, men are doing paid work. She also failed to notice that, when paid and unpaid work are aggregated, men and women’s time spent are statistically identical.)

I went to the NSFH website and noticed an interesting thing about how they collect their data. To compile their figures on time spent doing work around the house other than childcare, the survey asks respondents about nine different types of tasks – Preparing Meals, Washing Dishes, Cleaning House, Outdoor Tasks, Shopping, Washing/Ironing, Paying Bills, Automobile Maintenance and Driving. Respondents are asked to estimate the amount of time they spend at each activity.

Anyone see anything missing? Yep, I did too. Of those nine categories, five are typically done mostly by women while only one, Automobile Maintenance, is done mostly by men. What about Home Repair and Maintenance, for example, that would include plumbing and electrical repair, painting, drywall and tile repair, appliance repair, etc.? Or what about a category called, say, Home Construction and Improvement that would include the deck he built, the room he added on, the wall he tore out and replaced? In short, whoever decided on those categories neglected whole areas of typically male-done household tasks. It’s easy to underestimate men’s contributions to the household if you exclude those areas, and that’s exactly what the NSFH does.

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