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Spouses Sharing Equal Housework

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“Who says it’s a woman’s job to clean?” In today’s society, Americans are working more than ever. This is particularly the case for women. Women continue to increase their participation in the paid work force, and the average paid work week of fully employed women has risen from 35 hours in 1969 to 40 hours in 1990 (Schor 1993). The overriding question for most dual-earning marriages–is who is going to do the housework. Apparently men and women have a different perspective on who should do what, and they find themselves fighting about it. The man is apparently demanding that she do most of the work, and she is demanding that the man do it (Harley, Dr. “How to Divide Domestic Responsibilities”. Marriage Builders 17 Mar. 1997: 1.). Traditionally, wives assumed household and child care responsibilities, while the husband took care of providing income for the family; however, full time working women are still largely responsible for home and family care.

In my opinion, we need to abandon the Victorian ideal of separate spheres. If women are to be equal participants in the economy and the polity, men must become equal partners in maintaining homes and raising children. In 1950, U.S. families with breadwinner fathers and stay-at-home mothers were twice as numerous as any other family types. Today there are twice as many two-earner families as families where only the man works. The rapid increase in the number of mothers holding jobs is arguably the most important social trend of the past half-century. In a dramatic departure from the 1950s, most mothers return to work before their first child turns one-year old.

Gone are popular images of anxious and isolated expectant fathers pacing hospital waiting rooms and passing out cigars. As late as the early 1970s, only one in four men attended the birth of their children, but now over eight out of ten fathers are present in the delivery room (“Families and gender equity”. National Forum.) Men are also doing more childcare after the baby comes home. Opinion polls show that two of three American men say that they value families over jobs, and two of three wives say they want husbands to spend more time with the children. As most women have figured out by now, men are not very motivated to do childcare and housekeeping. Whether these attitudes will motivate men to share in the full range of family tasks remains to be seen, but fathers appear to be doing more than they formerly did.

Fathers who are sharing everyday parenting with their wives is increasing, such men are intimately involved in the details of their children’s lives, and while they might not act exactly like mothers, they adopt some similar styles of parenting, including treating sons and daughters alike. As everyday parents, men are more in touch with their child’s developing needs and abilities in setting realistic goals for them. The experience of caring for children also generalizes to other relationships: men who do more parenting report they are more in touch with their emotions, are more compassionate, and can relate better to their wives.

Though men are doing more parenting than their own fathers did, changes have been slower than anticipated. Some of the major barriers to father involvement stem from job demands and the structure of the workplace. Work-family programs (like flextime and parental leave) are usually designed with women in mind, giving some men more schedule flexibility and shorter hours (Mellor, Earl. 1986. “Shift work and Flextime” Monthly Labor Review 109:14-21).

However, women have discovered that there are costs associated with making children a priority, including slower promotions, lower earnings, and a general perception that one is not serious about work. Men’s family involvement also has been limited around the house. Many men worry about their masculinity, they refuse to perform activities they consider “women’s work.” But perhaps most importantly, men do little family work because they can get away with doing so. On the basis of being men, they expect to benefit from the domestic services of women. This outdated sense of masculine entitlement, coupled with women feeling obligated, leads to divisions of family work that are markedly unbalanced. Men and women each have a totally different perspective on who should do what, and find themselves fighting about it (Thompson, Linda. 1991. “Family Work: Women’s Sense of Fairness.”

Journal of Family Issues 12:181-96). The man is apparently demanding that the woman do most of the work, and she is demanding that the man do it. Neither of them feeling, it is their responsibility. Domestic responsibilities are a time bomb in many marriages. When marriage occurs there is willingness on behalf of both spouses to share domestic responsibilities. Newlyweds commonly wash dishes together, make the bed together, and divide household tasks. The groom welcomes the help he gets from his wife because, prior to marriage, he had been doing it all by himself as a bachelor. At this point in marriage, neither of them regards domestic responsibilities as an important issue. But the bomb is ticking. When does it explode? It’s when the children arrive!

Children create huge needs, both a greater need for income and greater household responsibilities. The previous division of labor is now obsolete. Both spouses must take on new responsibilities. In most modern marriages, both spouses opt to continue working, leaving the home to whoever will do it. It’s a recipe for disaster, at least for most working women, because they end up doing most of the housework and childcare, resenting their husbands lack of support (Perry-Jenkins, Maureen, and Karen folk. 1994. “Class, Couples, and Conflict: Effects of the Division of Labor on Assessments of Marriage in Dual-Earner Families. Journal of Marriage and the Family 56:165-80).

At one time women said they did not want men’s help with housework, but things are changing. Since the 1970s, men have roughly doubled their contributions to the inside household chores of cooking, cleaning, and washing (from about two to three hours per week to about five to eight hours per week)(Rasmussen Research/To the contrary Poll, “Who’s doing the Housework”). Nevertheless, men still do only about a third as much as their wives, who have cut down the number of hours they spend in these tasks. Although, the division of household chores varies widely among families, as a group, men are assuming more responsibility for grocery shopping, cooking, and meal clean up.

Men’s share of household cleaning, laundry, and other repetitive indoor tasks has increased only modestly. But studies show that men are doing more only when asked to help their wives instead of becoming equal participants (Ross, Catherine E. 1987. “The division of Labor at Home.” Social Forces 65:816-33.) . In general, shared housework is usually a practical response to outside demands and occurs when wives bargain for it. If couples deliberately divide tasks early in the relationship, a pattern of sharing becomes self-perpetuating. If couples assume that sharing will happen on its own, women end up doing virtually everything.

A “just’ division of labor in the home would therefore be one in which men shared equally both in the performance of all household chores and in the responsibility for seeing to it that everything is done (Perry, Jenkins. 1994.) Conflict often increases when men become involved in what was previously the wife’s domain. As men take on more responsibility for parenting and housework, frequent discussions take place about what should be done and whose standards should be followed. One strategy for sharing is to have definite “on duty” times and for men to assume full responsibility for that specific task. Strategizing minimizes conflicts and enables men to move out of the helper role. Parents who share childcare and housework realize that it is difficult, but the rewards outweigh the costs.

In conclusion, as husbands become more active parents, social processes will be initiated that could have far reaching effects. If more men care for children, daughters and sons emotional dispositions and cognitive frameworks will become more similar. This similarity will prepare future generations for a world that is less polarized by gender than the one we know. Because sharing family work is linked to cooperation in other realms, men’s involvement could increase women’s public status and reduce men’s propensity for violence. By instituting gender equity in the family, we will move closer to achieving gender equity in the larger society.

Works Cited

–“Families and Gender equity”, National Forum.

–Harley, Dr. “How to Divide Domestic Responsibilities.”� Marriage Builders 17 Mar. 1997: 1.

–Mellor, Earl. 1986. “Shift Work and Flextime.”� Monthly Labor Review 109:14-21 –Perry-Jenkins, Maureen, and Karen Folk. 1994. “Class, couples, and Conflict: Effects of the Division of Labor on Assessments of Marriage in Dual-earner Families. Journal of Marriage and the Family 56:165-80.

–Schor 1993 –Thompson Linda. 1991. “Family Work: Women’s Sense of Fairness.”� Journal of Family Issues 12:181-96.

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