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Gender gap narrows on the workfront, but less at home

Categories: Balancing Act, Parenting & Family, Relationships & Marriage, Working Women Issues


If you have a few minutes, you should check out the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce from the Families and Work Institute. It has some pretty awesome and interesting statistics about the roles men and women play at work and in their families and how their various perceptions of traditional gender roles have shifted (and in some cases, changed dramatically) in the past decade.

First the good news: There is decreasing disparity between what men and women get paid for doing the same work. Many fewer men and women than ten years ago think that the best way for a family to function is for the woman to stay home. Fathers are spending more time with their children (and so are mothers, although the difference is less dramatic) and they are taking more responsibility for the care of their children (according to them and their wives).

This all pretty much rocks.

Now the less good news: On the home front, the women are still in charge of holding down the fort when it comes to cooking and cleaning. Men are doing more than they did ten years ago, but the difference is still pretty sigificant. For example, according to 70% of women they take most of the responsibility for cooking at home and according to 56% of men, they do. So not only do women doing most of the cooking but there is a pretty big disparaity between how much the men think they are contributing.

Other not great news: Men are pretty much as stressed and torn between work and family as women. Sure, we’re equal in our stress — and this might be a good thing for mutual understand and hey, maybe even for keeping marriages stronger — but it’s not a good thing to have both parents stressed out about juggling work and family.

All of these findings make sense to me and while I am thrilled (THRILLED!) to see some of the old-fashioned gender role perceptions vanish, I feel the pain of the women who are still shouldering more of the responsibilities on the home front. I have an absolutely wonderful husband who does a lot. Truly. But the bottom line is that I am still responsible for more of the big stuff and it’s exhausting. (Sorry, honey, but you know it’s true.)

What do you think about the findings in the study? Do you and your partner or spouse experience different levels of stress about working and taking care of a family? What about things like cooking and cleaning – does one of you do more than the other?


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11 comments so far...

  • I like how you said that women are more responsible for the cooking. Many families I see it’s the women that care more about healthy eating and realize how horrific junk food and take out is. Men seem to think that it’s no big deal. Perhaps that’s why women are more stressed about the cooking. I think the same applies to cleaning. Perhaps more women than men are neat freaks. Although I know plenty of men who are very clean as well. Perhaps it’s the mindset of a man that still needs time to change. I see a dramatic difference. Now at the doctor’s office, I see fathers and mothers and fathers together bring the kids to the doctor. At one point you usually saw mothers and grandmothers. Perhaps in another decade men will slowly start to realize the importance of cooking and cleaning and our children’s lives will be even better.

    vera babayeva  |  December 14th, 2009 at 8:20 am

  • I have to ask, though - aren’t men on average still putting on more hours on their paid jobs? (We all know they are, on average.) And if so, why is it wrong for them to put in less average hours on cooking and cleaning?

    I also find it unfortunate that so much energy goes into complaining about the housework disparities. It isn’t that big of a deal. As a single mom who does it all, I am not overwhelmed. Sure, sometimes I have to put off some housework in order to attend to more important family or work stuff. But it gets done and we’re none the worse for wear. I can clean the whole house without feeling miserable because there isn’t any negativity weighing me down - “why couldn’t “he” do this? Why do “I” get stuck with everything?” It isn’t worth it. Just do it, is my feeling. And figure out ways to make it simpler, regardless of who does it. (Is there really a need to cook a meat-and-potatoes meal from scratch every day?)

    SKL  |  December 14th, 2009 at 9:09 am

  • SKL, i hear you about the complaining. Totally hear you and completely agree. As far as cooking, I believe in cooking from scratch for the most part, cause it makes a difference in the long run.

    vera babayeva  |  December 14th, 2009 at 9:28 am

  • And Nataly, many times, many of your blog posts do sound like you complain a lot about being a mom and stuff. Sometimes it angers me that you complain so much. And many times, i feel like rolling my eyes at you because, uh here it comes, you only have one child! But then again, i don’t know about all the other aspects of your life, i only know what i read on your blog. and I am always coming back for more, as i do like reading your stuff and your bloggers. :)

    vera babayeva  |  December 14th, 2009 at 9:32 am

  • One of the things that really piqued my interest in that study was the fact that for the first time, there was no difference in the desire for a job with greater responsibility for young women with children *and* young women without children. Also, of the Millenials who said they didn’t want more responsibility at work, 31 percent said it was because they didn’t want to deal with the pressure, but only 15 percent said it was because they wanted the flexibility to manage a family.

    It made me wonder whether the Millenial generation (people age 29 and younger) feels that they’ve acheived work-life balance, where as Generation X (my generation, which is basically age 30 to 45 or so) still feels stressed about it.

    Lylah  |  December 14th, 2009 at 12:09 pm

  • Lylah - I think a lot of Gen X feels stressed because we’re sandwiched and we can see it. If you didn’t fly to the top (and many of us didn’t because the Boomers were still there), then you’re in the middle somewhere, and are often getting passed over for promotions to the younger generation who are just “putting off kids” to reach the top.
    Take leaner organizations into account, and I hear fear in my generation; when that Boomer retires in 5 years, is the job really going to my 40-something self or are they going to pass us over for the fresh 30-somethings?
    I wonder though; some of the Millenials seem so confident that they can take 10 years off and then start cranking to the top again; from the Gen-X side; if you took 10 years off, you will be lucky to see any managerial suite, let alone the top. Will the Millenals see the same? Or will the sheer numbers game (generational size) come out better for them in the end?

    Mich  |  December 14th, 2009 at 4:37 pm

  • Mich, I do see a lot of what you’re saying happening in my company already. I think that’s a great point, re: being sandwiched, and passed over earlier because Boomers were already at the top, passed over later because we’re neck-deep in raising our families.

    I’m curious about what will happen when Millenials are in their mid-30s. I suspect generational size will be in their favor — there just might be enough of them already at the top (having skipped over Gen Xers) that policies re: work and family are much different than they are now… taking time off, on ramping, or flex time may be the norm rather than coveted benefits.

    Lylah  |  December 14th, 2009 at 8:56 pm

  • Mich and Lylah,

    It’s my experience that women who “wait” to have kids while building their careers and their “nest eggs” don’t necessarily feel the pull to go back to the aggressive climb once they do have kids. Many have gotten to a “comfortable place” where they don’t need to make a lot of money, and they don’t have as much energy for the work-life dance as they would have at, say, 28. Having waited a decade or more to have kids, does a 30-something (or 40-something) mom desire a position that requires a lot of overnight travel, a lot of evening entertaining, or very long or inflexible work hours? Sometimes yes, but often no.

    So my prediction is that a nearly “equal” distribution of males and females through all levels of an organization won’t happen in my lifetime, unless it becomes more difficult for moms to cut back the aggressive schedule than to continue it. This could happen if, for instance, personal wealth already accumulated by this demographic group loses its value.

    SKL  |  December 14th, 2009 at 10:50 pm

  • I say we, especially as moms and ambitious women, should all pursue entrepreneurship. It just works. Being our own boss and there is no limit to the income. Ask Mir, or other of your bloggers here on wim, I am sure they will agree. :)

    vera babayeva  |  December 15th, 2009 at 7:44 am

  • Starting your own business is great, but it takes a special inner drive to build a successful one; the type that covers not only it’s own expenses but all your household expenses as well. Not to mention connections and sometimes pure luck.
    Might I think differently if I were married? Possibly, take my ex; he had a steady job that didn’t generate a lot of cash but was ultra-steady work with basic benefits (health, pension). The freedom to fail would have been easier knowing the family wouldn’t go hungry or be kicked out of the house. But in my situation? I don’t see trying it.
    Several friends have tried it over the last 3 years; most are now looking for ANY job because the business didn’t make it and they have to pay the mortgage and the light bill. And none have kids at home to worry about.

    Mich  |  December 15th, 2009 at 5:29 pm

  • what i notice is not so much the cooking/cleaning but the scheduling of multiple kids and afterschool activities. That’s what really makes my head spin and to what my DH seems to be oblivious.

    HobbyC  |  December 16th, 2009 at 1:43 pm