- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Gone is the cleaning service, the relaxing pedicure, the once-a-week pizza. As the economy heads south, many of the things families — and people in general — outsource are coming back home, from cooking to plumbing.

Who is hardest hit? Married women in general and moms in particular, says Wendy Liebmann, chief executive of WSL Strategic Retail, a company that studies shopping habits.

“The list of things that people were outsourcing we’re finding are coming back home. And when they do, they tend to fall on the woman,” Ms. Liebmann says.

Studies show that in a two-income household, married women — particularly mothers — do the majority of the work. In fact, when couples marry, women pick up seven more hours of housework a week, while men shed an hour of housework.

On an average day, 83 percent of women spend time doing housework, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey from 2007 (www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.nr0.htm). The corresponding number for men was 66 percent.

In real hours, that translates roughly into 25 hours a week of housework for women and 14 hours’ worth of housework for men, says Frank Stafford, an economist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research who researches how couples divide housework.

“And that hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years,” Mr. Stafford says. “Women still do the core housework — cooking, cleaning — the stuff people don’t want to do.”

He says that in an economic slowdown such as this one, these roles probably will be exacerbated as women pick up the slack left in the wake of less outsourcing.

“We tend to fall back on traditional roles,” Mr. Stafford says.

Ms. Liebmann echoes the sentiment and refers to it as the tendency toward “traditional work in a contemporary setting.”

However, she says there are individual differences and particularly age-related differences when it comes to divvying up the housework: The younger the couple, the more equal the division of labor.

In other words, a young married couple in their 20s are more likely to divide the housework more equally — though not completely 50-50 — than a married couple in their 40s or 50s.

On the other hand, she says, the younger the couple, the more likely they are not to have basic household skills.

“The other piece is that a whole generation — the under-35 group — doesn’t know how to do basic electrical work or even how to sew on a button,” Ms. Liebmann says.

This group is reporting in WSL’s most recent survey, “How America Shops in Crisis,” that they’re intending to become do-it-yourselfers.

“It’s about channeling your inner June Cleaver in a Web-based world,” Ms. Liebmann says.

The survey also shows that 61 percent of women say they’re cooking and entertaining more at home than they did before the economy started tanking. The corresponding number for men — including younger men — is 50 percent, she says.

So, no matter how you slice it or dice it, women — particularly moms — end up with the bulk of household work. When money is tight, they not only do more chores, but they also may cut back on relaxing treats like manicures and pedicures.

“It’s not just that she’s doing more for the family, but she’s also doing less for herself,” Ms. Liebmann says. “This is going to be a tough year for mom.”

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