The Division of Unpaid Labor: Part 1

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From the Flinstones to the Brady Bunch

Living together as grownups is something we’ve been doing for generations. For a very long time, humans lived in small groups. Survival of these groups relied on a distribution of labor between everyone in the group. If you did not pitch in or hoarded resources, you were out. There was no room for slackers. Farming changed the landscape drastically, but a distribution of labor was still needed to keep food production consistent. The onset of the industrial revolution changed everything again. Instead of working land, labor shifted to factories. This forever changed the distribution of labor within the household. Initially, everyone in the family had to work in the factories to survive, but over time, societies figured out it would be useful to educate the populace. By the early 20th century, production lines allowed for increased output. Companies needed a consumer base for all their stuff, so wages increased making way for the middle class as exemplified by shows like Leave it to Beaver. Men went to work. Children went to school. Women made babies, cooked, cleaned, sewed clothing, and entertained. There was a perfect balance.

Women in The Office

Whatever happened to this white picket fenced wonderland? Well, first, it’s important to remember this world only ever existed for the upper and middle class. Poor women have always had to work and maintain households. Only recently families more have needed dual earners. In 1967, half of all mothers stayed home with their children. The all-time low was 23% in 1999. In 2012 (the most recent year with data available in this study), the number increased to 29%. Still, that leaves 71% of mothers working and raising children.

Increased access to education and workplace opportunities is a win for everyone; however, there is a glaring downside. A recent study found around the world, women do an average of 2.6 times more of the unpaid work required to run a household. Unpaid work is everything from household chores, picking kids up from extra-curricular activities, to meal planning. Women must spend a significant amount more time on everyday activities to keep their households running. Now to be transparent, in the United States, women do 1.6 times more work. From a global perspective, that is not so bad. However, there is still room for improvement.

The Family Guy Phenomenon

I don’t need statistics to tell me this because I hear it day in and day out at work. Being one of the only people in my office who is not married nor has children gives me a unique outside perspective. There are endless stories about husbands not pitching in with the chores and botching childcare plans. When they do make feeble attempts to help, it’s inevitably a disaster on par with every flailing husband in a 90s sitcom. How can this be after decades of advances in women’s rights? Is this the inevitable result of millennia of patriarchy? Do men have a forever pass from properly wiping down a counter or cleaning a toilet?

For the next two weeks, I will tackle the intricacies of the division of unpaid labor between male and female domestic partners. Why do women still do more unpaid labor? Is it only fair because men work more outside the home? Are women just more naturally inclined towards domestic duties? The questions and more will be answered next week. Stay tuned!!

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