- - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Nothing beats working like conducting a survey to calibrate the obvious. What else would graduate students do? The best of such surveys confirm what everybody already knows.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development produced a learned study this month comparing how much housework men and women of 11 European countries perform, and concluded that woman’s work is never done. Men are suspected of considerable lollygagging (as usual).

The differences between men and women were supposed to have been erased by now, but boys — and men — will be boys. This means that women, if they want to live in clean houses without dirty socks hanging across lampshades and toilet seats forever in the upright position, will always be in charge of supervision, which usually means an unfair division of household labor.

The survey reveals that Britain has “the longest-working-hours culture,” perhaps a remnant of the Protestant work ethic. Forty percent of Britain’s employed men work 40 hours a week, or more. The United States, not being in Europe, was not included in the study, and a good thing, because it would have had to take into account President Obama’s suggestion to cut employees’ hours back to 29 per week whenever possible to escape Obamacare’s employer-mandate penalty.

Women, the surveyors found, have cut back their hours of “unpaid work,” e.g., housework and supervising children, while increasing their hours of paid employment. This is a phenomenon that has been at work over the past half-century. “[Men] have been doing more housework and child care,” the surveyors lament, “but they didn’t take up the slack, so gender inequalities in the use of time are still large in all countries.”

A broader time-use survey examined work habits of 26 nations, with surveyors intent on finding more of this “inequality.” It turns out that women in Turkey and Mexico spend six hours a day shopping and taking care of the house while “their menfolk” spend less than two hours on similar tasks. (Wives elsewhere have occasionally observed this phenomenon.) Averaging hours in all the countries, women spend 168 minutes a day on housework and 40 more on child care. Men, rotters that they are, spend less than half as many minutes on each task.

Americans, according to studies, roughly follow the same trend, with women spending 126 minutes a day on “routine housework” and an additional 41 minutes on child care, as measured in 2010, while “menfolk” contribute 82 and 19 minutes. American men spend 26 minutes more than women daily on “TV or radio at home” and 13 minutes more playing sports. One consoling finding: U.S. women make up for some of that disparity by sleeping 13 minutes a day more (522 minutes vs. 509).

Among the problems with studies like this one, however, is that they’re generally based on self-reporting and guesses. The Europeans further show insensitivity, in our era of loose definitions of “marriage,” by failing to measure how housework is divided between two husbands or two wives. Perhaps the study shouldn’t have been limited to old-fashioned, out-of-era comparisons between men and women. Facebook now counts 58 “genders.” At this point, what difference does anything make?

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