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  • Housework: Who Did, Does or Will Do It, and How Much Does It Matter?
  • Suzanne M. Bianchi, Liana C. Sayer, Melissa A. Milkie, and John P. Robinson

“Is Anyone Doing the Housework?” (Bianchi et al. 2000) was motivated, like much of the research on housework, by a desire to better understand gender inequality and social change in the work and family arena in the United States. During the 1990s, Arlie Hochschild’s (1989) influential book, The Second Shift, provided the dominant assessment of the gender division of labor in the home (Konigsberg 2011): men were unwilling to share the burden of work in the home and thus employed women came home to a “second shift” of housework and childcare, increasing gender inequality. Her rich qualitative study was based on a small sample of unknown generalizability, however (Milkie, Raley, & Bianchi 2009).

The collection and release of the large and nationally representative 1987–88 National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH) unleashed a flurry of housework articles in the quantitative sociological literature. The NSFH had the advantage of reports of housework from both members of a couple and husbands’ and wives’ assessments of fairness in the household division of labor, but these data could not provide the trend analysis critical to the understanding of social change that time diary data collections allowed. “Is Anyone Doing the Housework?” used the NSFH but also presented analysis of the only nationally representative data available – time diaries – with which to assess trends in housework and broaden the discussion of how women and men might be reallocating time in the home during a period of rapid change in women’s work outside the home.

The citation count in Google Scholar stands at 910 citations (as of April 20, 2012), with those citations continuing to the present.1 In the article, we showed that the gender division of labor in housework became more equal over this period, in part because men increased their time in housework but more importantly because women dramatically decreased the time they spent in these activities. Men increased their propensity to do housework and the increase was not a result of change in population composition, whereas for women it was a mix of decreased likelihood of doing housework but also an increase in the [End Page 55] proportion of women least likely to spend time in housework (e.g., employed women). We compared time diary data to the NSFH, demonstrating that the NSFH survey questions resulted in estimates that were about 50 percent higher than time diary estimates but that both data sources yielded similar conclusions about the gender gap in housework. Finally, using the NSFH data, we provided a multivariate description of the correlates of wives’ housework time, husbands’ housework time and the gender gap in housework time of married couples. The findings remain relevant today, save the need for the update of trends provided here.

Using time diary data for 1965, 1975, 1985 and 1995, our observation window on housework was one in which the pressure on women to “shed load” to accommodate increased market work was high and in which the pressure on men to “pick up some of the slack” was perhaps also high. Our data analysis spanned the 1970–90 period of greatest labor force increases for U.S. women, particularly married women with young children. Subsequent trend analyses of women’s labor force participation, housework and childcare in the 1990s showed much less increase and a leveling off in rates by the end of the 20th century (Sayer 2005; Sayer, Bianchi, & Robinson 2004), causing some to argue that the gender revolution was over (Cotter, Hermsen, & Vanneman 2011).

Who is Doing the Housework Today?

Table 1 updates trends in men’s and women’s weekly hours of housework through 2010, the most recent data we have available at this writing. Panel A and B show estimates for the two universes we used in the original article: all individuals, aged 25 to 64 years and the subset of married individuals in these age ranges. Table 1 also adds a universe that was not the focus of our 2000 article – Panel C on married parents. This group became a...


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