The University Record, March 25, 2002

Study finds American men doing more housework

By Diane Swanbrow
News and Information Services

American men are doing about 16 hours of housework a week, up from 12 hours a week in 1965, according to a study by the Institute for Social Research (ISR). The weekly housework hours of American women have declined sharply since 1965, the study finds. But women are still doing much more housework than men—about 27 hours a week.

The findings are part of a study of time-use trends in the United States and other industrialized nations, conducted by ISR researchers F. Thomas Juster, Hiromi Ono and Frank Stafford with funding from the ISR Alfred P. Sloan Center for the Ethnography of Everyday Life.

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from time-diaries, considered the most accurate way to assess how people spend their time, supplementing the analysis with data from questionnaires asking men and women to recall how much time they spent on housework in an average week, including time spent cooking, cleaning and doing other work around the house.

While the number of hours men reported spending on such work increased steadily from 1965 to 1985, the increase stalled after that. “This lack of recent growth in housework hours among men may reflect the strong labor market during the 1990s,” says Stafford, an economist who directs the ISR

Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the source of much U.S. time-use data.

“ ‘Vanishing housework’ seems to be a result of the good job market for women as well as men,” Stafford says. “But there’s some reason to believe these low levels of housework will persist even in today’s weaker job market, since our research shows that most people rate routine housework as the least enjoyable use of their time.”

Despite the popular perception that Americans are working longer than ever, the time diary data clearly show that total work hours—defined as labor market work plus housework—decreased substantially from 1965 to 1985 for both men and women. From 1989 to 1999, the questionnaire recall data indicate that paid work in the labor market increased by 10 percent for men and 17 percent for women, reflecting the decade’s strong job market and the increasing labor market participation of women. As a result, total work time for men increased by 8 percent over that decade. But given the drop in housework time for women, their total work time increased by only 2 percent. “These changes are not large enough to explain why people feel like they have so much less free time these days,” Juster says. “It could be that more leisure time today involves scheduled activities, which make people feel busy rather than relaxed.”

For their analysis, the researchers also examined trends in cross-national differences in time use, drawing on a wide variety of data collected since 1965 in Japan, Russia, Sweden, Canada, Finland and Hungary. Among their findings:

  • Total work time (defined as market labor plus housework) tends to be higher for men than for women in countries with relatively high levels of income, including Japan, the United States and Sweden. In contrast, women have substantially more total work time than men in Russia, Finland and Hungary.

  • Swedish men do substantially more housework (24 hours a week) than men in the other countries examined and Japanese men do much less housework (4 hours a week). “Cross-national comparisons of the gender gap in housework hours indicate that Americans are less gender egalitarian than the Swedes but more egalitarian than the Japanese,” says Ono, a sociologist and assistant ISR research scientist.

  • Hungarian women do the most housework while Russian women do the least.

  • Leisure time is greatest in Japan, Sweden and the United States and lowest in Hungary, for both men and women, with television viewing substantially higher in Japan than elsewhere, especially among women.

    The data on U.S. housework time are from the ISR Panel Study of Income Dynamics, funded by the National Science Foundation, with additional funding for cross-national analyses from the United States-Japan Foundation.