Today’s women spend more time in paid employment but still come home to the second shift. On the typical day, nearly half of them will do housework, but just 20 percent of men will do the same. And women put more time into scrubbing the toilet or doing the laundry—three more hours each week than men. Men carve out three more hours of leisure time. Even mothers who work full-time will still put in a week and a half’s worth more time on household tasks than their male partners each year. When the division of household labor falls along gender lines, where can we turn for an explanation?
There’s a school of thought that women take on more of the childrearing work—moms spend twice the time on childcare each week that dads do—because they are biologically inclined to be caregivers. And it’s true that the female body is the one equipped to carry a pregnancy and breastfeed and that these experiences can create bonds, although there is also evidence that giving dads the time to be present during the earliest moments causes a bond that gets them more involved with their children later on.
But there’s no biological determinant for housework. No gender is physically predisposed to want to do the dishes or take out the trash. This drudgery is necessary—at least if you like eating off of dishes that don’t have old food on them or living in a house that doesn’t smell like the dump. But chores rarely bring the joy and fulfillment of parenting.
At least one cause of the housework gap can be traced back to childhood chores. A variety of studies have found that girls are asked to do more work around the house than boys. One study found that girls did two more hours of chores a week while boys got twice as much time to play. This dynamic carries a lesson for both genders: girls learn that housework falls on their shoulders, and boys learn that girls will clean up after them.
The gendered disparity doesn’t end at time and effort, either. Girls may do more housework, but they don’t get as much pay for it. Sixty-seven percent of boys get allowances, but just 59 percent of girls do. The study finding that girls do two more hours of chores per week also found that boys are 15 percent more likely to get an allowance for doing them. And when they do get paid for it, girls will get less. The lesson: boys are doing something special to be rewarded when they do a load of laundry or mow the lawn, while girls are doing something “natural” that doesn’t require remuneration.