NYT and Time Discover Men and Women Work Equally

Both Time and the New York Times now admit that men and women do the same amount of paid and unpaid work.  Well hallelujah!  Here’s Lisa Belkin’s admission (New York Times, 7/25/11).

Essentially all Belkin is doing is quoting a recent piece in Time Magazine, so that gives us a twofer.

For decades now, advocates for women have been telling anyone who would listen about the “Second Shift.”  Their theory was that women worked and slaved at the office all day – that was Shift 1 – and then had to come home and do all the housework and childcare – Shift 2.  They complained long and hard and sure enough, popular culture bought it.  Books, magazine articles and academic publications endlessly repeated the same thing – men are slackers while women toil in thankless obscurity.

Just a couple of years ago, Parenting Magazine ran a thoroughly baseless article entitled “Mad at Dad” making the same claims.  Parenting conducted a survey of its readers whose methodology wouldn’t pass muster in Sociology 101 and then ballyhooed the results that predictably showed lazy dads and moms who were mad because of it.

Just a few months ago, there was an ad on television that featured Mom coming home at the end of the day looking exhausted.  She immediately began preparing to do her Second Shift as Dad lazed on the sofa.  Every icon of the myth was there.

I can’t count the number of pieces I’ve written debunking that myth.  It’s just too easy to do.  All you have to do is look at the data produced every year by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that show that when paid and unpaid work are combined, men and women do the same amount.  Men do more paid work, women do more housework and childcare, and the two added together are about as close to the same as possible.

In vain did I and others point out the simple facts.  The myth was far more powerful and altogether more satisfying for those who want to see men and women as enemies.  After all, it’s tough to pretend that women should resent men and also admit that the guys are supporting the women in something they’re powerfully motivated to do – care for kids. 

The actual data suggest that men and women get along, each supporting the other’s desires.  According to study after study, dataset after dataset, women tend to prefer childcare to paid work, particularly when children are small.  Men tend to do the opposite, finding their greatest sense of accomplishment in paid work.  And the two tendencies work together.  Men do the lions share of the earning, but still know their children are in good hands.  Women do most of the childcare knowing Dad’s earnings will pay the rent.  It’s called a relationship, and it works.

But advocates for women weren’t having it.  For them, women were victims of layabout men and that was that.  If the data didn’t support their claims, they’d come up with their own figures, and that’s just what they did.  As Lisa Belkin admits,

Back then I cited the latest figures from the University of Wisconsin National Survey of Families and Households, which showed that the ratio of housework done by women to that done by men was about two to one, that the child care ratio was three to one and that both measurements had been at those levels for decades.

Yes, the NSFH was the go-to dataset for those whose aim was to find men wanting.  That’s because of the way the data were arrived at. 

The NSFH, like other similar surveys, asked respondents to record how much time per day they spent on certain activities.  And when it came to domestic chores the designers of the survey simply omitted much of what is typically done around the house by men but not by women.  That makes it easy to distort men’s contributions, which those who cite the NSFH data are wont to do. 

Here’s a piece I wrote about that very subject last year.  I emailed the folks at the University of Wisconsin asking why their survey omitted so much of what men usually do around the house.  They replied that they didn’t know why and that mistakes are always possible.

That’s something Lisa Belkin didn’t take into consideration when she concluded, along with so many others, that men are slackers.

Now, many years later, she’s learned the error of her ways, and, to her credit, admits it, albeit through the words of the Time article’s writer, Ruth Davis Konigsberg.

My conviction that I carried a heavier load was validated by similar complaints from my female friends as well as scholarly books and morning TV shows, all reinforcing what has become a global notion that working women — and working mothers in particular — toil much more than their partners. But what we weren”t seeing was that there was a mounting body of evidence that women were not, in fact, workhorse wives picking up their husbands” slack, that there are several variables in the dual-earner equation, debits as well as credits that need to be tallied in order to take a true measure of who does more…

… a year and a half into a new decade, it may come as a surprise to you, as it did to me, to discover that on balance, husbands and wives have never before had such similar workloads. According to data just released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, men and women in 2010 who were married, childless and working full time (defined by the bureau as more than 35 hours a week) had combined daily totals of paid and unpaid work — which is to say, work at the office and all the drudgery you have to do at home — that were almost exactly the same: 8 hours 11 minutes for men and 8 hours 3 minutes for women.  For those who had children under the age of 18, women employed full time did just 20 minutes more of combined paid and unpaid work than men did, the smallest difference ever reported. No, men were not doing the same amount of housework as women, but neither were women pulling the same number of hours at the office as men.

Finally!  Those simple truths have been known and reported by countless people, myself included, for years.  As gratified as I am to see the mainstream media finally get the message, their tone of miraculous new discovery rankles.  Face it Ms. Belkin and Ms. Konigsberg, this is not new.  If you’d been paying attention years ago, you’d have known it all along.

Unfortunately, old habits die hard.  For Konigsberg and Belkin that means only looking at the distaff side of things.  That’s what got them into trouble in the first place, so you might think they’d change their ways.  Nope. 

Belkin sensibly asks, “Why, then, the lingering impression among women that inequity exists?”  Part of the “answer,” according to Konigsberg is that,

Time diaries don”t take into account the stress women feel from being household managers, keeping that precisely calibrated family schedule in their heads at all times or knowing what”s for dinner, what ingredients are required and their exact location in the refrigerator.

Yes, and time diaries don’t take into account the stress a man feels from wondering if the boss is going to make him work Saturday when he promised to take Johnny to the zoo or if that key witness will actually show up in court as promised.

See?  That’s what happens when you think about the other side of things.  Yes, women worry about stuff that they don’t record in diaries for the BLS.  So do men.  But despite their best efforts, Konigsberg and Belkin just can’t seem to grasp that simplest of concepts – look at both sides of the issue, not just your own.

Neither do they seem to know about the recent findings of the Families and Work Institute that I’ve reported on.  Contrary to everything we’ve heard for decades, it’s actually men who experience far more work-family conflict than do women.  In the FWI analysis of longitudinal data, 61% of men said they experienced significant conflict between work and family obligations while only 47% of women said the same.  In fact, over the years in which women’s advocates have been complaining about the Second Shift, it’s been men who’ve experienced most of the stress.

But those are facts Konigsberg and Belkin overlook.  Maybe 10 years from now they’ll write an article pretending to discover those facts too.

Thanks to John for the heads-up.

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