Housework Gap Fuels the Wage Gap

America has a housework gap, and it's contributing to the wage gap.

Despite the fact that data from Pew Research Center released last month shows that women are the sole or primary source of income in a record 40 percent of U.S households, women still do the majority of housework and childcare. This week, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released the American Time Use Survey confirming that the gender-based housework gap, like the gender-based wage gap isn't closing.

According to the survey, on an average day:

  • 82 percent of women and 65 percent of men spent some time doing household activities such as housework, cooking, lawn care or financial and other household management. In the year prior, those numbers were 83 and 65 percent respectively.

  • 48 percent of women (the same as in 2011) did housework such as cleaning or doing laundry -- compared with 20 percent of men (up from 19 percent in 2011). Sixty-five percent of women did food preparation or cleanup, compared with 39 percent of men.
  • Among adults living in households with children under age six, women spent 1.1 hours providing physical care (such as bathing or feeding a child) to household children. Men spent 26 minutes providing physical care. Those numbers haven't changed year over year.
    • Men spend more time at work -- but not that much more. On the days they worked, employed men worked 55 minutes more than employed women. And when you compare men and women who work full-time, men worked 36 minutes more than women. The time spent at work increased just slightly for both men and women year over year.

    Yes, many women will say they have a lower tolerance for disorder and chaos than their spouses do and therefore do most of the housework. Many women prefer to take the lead parenting role in their families and therefore they do more of the childcare. But other factors contribute to the inequity at home too -- from longstanding gender roles and expectations to plain old sexism. And those inequities inside the home contribute to inequities in the workplace.

    In an article about the wage gap, Shelley J. Correll, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, notes that research supports the idea that many employers believe "mothers are less committed to their jobs, so they are less willing to hire mothers into good jobs or to offer them high salaries." And two other professors, Joni Hersch and Leslie S. Stratton, published research in The Journal of Human Resources, indicating housework has a direct and negative correlation to women's wages. They suggested one theory for this could be employer's negative reactions to women who appear dedicated to household activities.

    Women earn, on average, just 72 cents for every dollar a man makes. With so many American families relying on female breadwinners to contribute at least some part of the necessary income to maintain their households, it's imperative we close the both the housework gap and the wage gap, and help women access the top salaries. Experts predict the current gender-based wage gap translates into approximately $10,000 less per year in median earnings for women than men. Mortgages, grocery bills, childcare, school fees and medical bills are dependent on women earning their fair share.

    We can tell women to lower their standards around housework and child-rearing. We can give them negotiating tools and training so that they can advocate for more support at home and higher wages at work. But we also need their spouses to recognize the gap exists and has negative consequences and to play an active role in closing it. And businesses can help too. Companies should take a hard look at how they can embrace working women as a vital part of the workforce. By instituting family-friendly policies like flex time and telecommuting, and encouraging not only women, but also men to use them, they can help create a more equitable dynamic at home. The current situation -- women breadwinners carrying an inordinate amount of responsibility for housework and child care, is not only unfair to women, it's bad for families, for businesses, and for the economy overall.