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What’s the current state of household chores for women across the U.S.? That largely depends on what region you’re talking about and what political ideology the women in question hold — at least according to the findings of a new survey by Langer Research Associates.
The phone survey, which, in January, polled a random national sample of 1,008 women around the country age 18 and older, was commissioned by Yahoo Lifestyle parent company Verizon Media and CARE International in anticipation of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, on March 8. (Read the full results here.)
Among the more surprising findings on the topic of housework is that women in the Midwest, it seems, are most dissatisfied about the division of household labor. That region is where the largest percentage of women — 47 percent — reported doing more chores than their spouse or partner, as compared with 37, 36 and 30 percent of women in the West, Northeast and South, respectively.
The Midwest is also where the smallest percentage of women felt their spouse or partner showed enough appreciation for all the housework they took on — 69 percent, as compared with 75, 79 and 82 percent of women in the West, Northeast and South, respectively.
All around, though, 53 percent of women who live with a partner say they share household chores and responsibilities about equally. Among the rest, women are much more apt to say they handle more chores (36 percent) than to say their partner does (10 percent).
And regardless of who does what, seven in 10 women say they like things the way they are — while 77 percent say their partner shows enough appreciation for the share of chores and responsibilities they do handle. Still, one in five says her partner is under-appreciative.
Yahoo Lifestyle, curious about what appeared to be the collective dissatisfaction of Midwestern women over the inequality at home, as well as the apparent satisfaction of Southern women, conducted more in-depth interviews about the details of housework with a handful of women in those regions.
Teresa, a Florida physical therapist with five grown kids, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that her husband takes the initiative around the house. “I might start laundry and get caught up in something else, and he’ll run and grab it,” she explains. “After dinner, he’ll automatically clear dishes with me, and if I do dishes he’ll offer to help — though his instinct is to wait until the end [laughs]! He’s even gone so far to pull out a vacuum. But it’s more the immediate needs he picks up on.”
She says their chore dynamic initially came out of what she’d known growing up. “I was raised very traditionally, meaning a woman’s home was her job, and outside was the man’s job,” Teresa says. “So, in keeping with that, I think we fell into a flow where I automatically took on household chores.” But as time has gone one, she says, he’s pitched in more.
Also sharing the Southern perspective is Peggy, telling Yahoo Lifestyle that she’s lucky compared to her peers, as her husband does a lot around the house. “He does whatever needs to be done,” she reports, although their tasks are generally split along traditional gender lines — with her focused on the inside of the house and her husband focused out, such as on yardwork. Still, she adds, “If he sees laundry, he throws it in. He does yardwork, fixes things. He’s an unusual person. I am blessed.” Peggy adds that she’ll “occasionally” hire a housekeeper to help them out.
Not everyone in the South is thrilled with their partner’s input, however. Wanda, of Georgia, says that while her husband does help out, it’s only after receiving her well thought-out directions. “I make a list every day,” Wanda says, adding that she and her husband, who is a bit older and retired, are raising their 15-year-old granddaughter together. While Wanda does her granddaughter’s laundry, shuttles her around to her many activities and plans everyone’s meals, she also doles out the tasks to her husband of 40 years.
“He might pick up groceries that I write on the list for him — he might fix something or repair something,” such as when one of their windows needed replacing recently. Still, Wanda says, she doesn’t think he understands the enormity of what she takes on daily. “I think I make what I do too easy. I don’t jump up and down and scream and yell [about it]… Men are like foragers — they come back like the hunter and yell, ‘Here it is!’ and don’t put it away. Drives me nuts. I wanted pictures on the wall, told him exactly where I wanted them, he goes to the store and gets the 3M and laid it out for me to look at. I was like, ‘I don’t want to look at it, I want you to do it!”
The extra background work that Wanda refers to was detailed in a Harper’s Bazaar story that went viral in 2017, by Gemma Hartley, about “emotional labor.” “My husband is a good man, and a good feminist ally. I could tell, as I walked him through it, that he was trying to grasp what I was getting at. But he didn’t. He said he’d try to do more cleaning around the house to help me out. He restated that all I ever needed to do was ask him for help, but therein lies the problem. I don’t want to micromanage housework. I want a partner with equal initiative.”
Women in the Midwest, according to CARE survey results, have mixed feelings about housework — and the divide.
“I had always done the cooking and everything, so I did that for 20 some years,” says Marie, 76, who lives in Minnesota with her husband. “But one day my husband said, ‘I think I’ll start cooking,’ and I said, ‘Well…OK then.’” Although Marie did more of the housework for decades, she says her husband did “more of the business,” at the time, equaling it out. “We brought our strengths to whatever was at hand.”
For Beth Ann, a 49-year-old in Illinois, that uneven split is satisfactory. “We don’t split all the chores…but he does what he can do,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “If I come home from work and I’m too pooped to do the laundry, I know I don’t have to do it because he’ll do it.”
For the Midwestern-native, a lot of it boils down to upbringing. “I was raised that the women do the chores. My dad went off to work, my mom took care of the house,” Beth Ann says. Recent research echoes her thinking, showing that the gender chore gap may begin as early as adolescence. Daughters, studies show, are conditioned to perform more housework than sons, internalizing the belief that it’s their job to keep things stable at home.
But women like Beth Ann believe this “generationally perpetuated” pattern has begun to shift. “In our time, it takes two to make a household,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I may be a woman, but I’m doing men’s work too. If this is going to be a partnership, then that’s what it should be.”
Whether or not it should be, for many, it still isn’t. The unequal divide among housework that emerged in the CARE survey has been a long-standing fact in the research world. A 2015 study from Working Mother titled Chore Wars showed that even in dual-income families, working women still do the majority of laundry, dishes, cooking, and cleaning.
Part of that seems to be — at least in heterosexual couples — because men’s perceptions differ from reality. In a popular New York Times piece titled Men Do More At Home, But Not As Much As They Think, Claire Cain Miller provides evidence that men believe they’re taking on more at home than they are in reality. “The gender revolution has largely been one-sided,” writes Miller. “Women have entered traditionally male jobs, but men have been reluctant to take on traditionally female activities.”
So where does this leave the women dissatisfied with the unequal reality, and what should they do to fix it? According to Tiffany Dufu, author of Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less, the answer is simple: nothing. Dufu argues that the only way to shift the pendulum to equality on the chore front is for women to be willing to delegate, disengage, and let go of the need for perfection, as well as shift responsibilities to their husbands or partners, even if that means a job less well done.
“In every home there are leaky faucets — real and metaphorical,” Dufu writes. “Women must trust other people to tackle their problems, even if they do it differently from how we would…If we can do that, we’re likely to discover the kind of innovation that can transform our lives on the homefront for good.”
Whether or not women begin to let go of the need to control the housework, it’s abundantly clear that the mechanics of this scenario will continue to inform our ideas about who we are. In the 2013 paper Why Study Housework? Cleaning as a Window Into Power in Couples, Shannon N. Davis and Theodore N. Greenstein explain the larger implications of this issue.
“Housework has become a proxy for understanding the relationship between gender and power in heterosexual couples,” they write. “Notions of equity not only are intertwined with covert and overt power but also are explicitly gendered. Studying housework, therefore, can teach us about social life at both the micro and the macro levels.”
This HuffPost/Yahoo/CARE survey was conducted by telephone Jan. 21-30, 2019, among a random national sample of 1,008 adult women, with 71 percent reached on cell phones and 29 percent on landlines. Results have a 3.6 percentage point error margin for the full sample, including design effects due to weighting. The survey was produced by Langer Research Associates of New York. N.Y., with field work by Issues & Answers of Virginia Beach, Va.