For Working Women, Having It All May Mean Doing It All
The sexual revolution and economic realities have made the two-career family a fact of modern life. But according to Arlie Hochschild, a sociology professor at the University of California at Berkeley, the household roles of men and women have not evolved along with their work lives: It is women who still bear the greater responsibility for child care, cooking and cleaning. " We're in a stalled revolution, "says Hochschild, 49. "There is the myth of this happy, liberated working woman, briefcase in one hand, child in the other. The notion is that all the necessary changes have occurred, but they haven't."
Hochschild reached that conclusion after spending 10 years studying 50 couples, both professionals and blue-collar workers, in the San Francisco Bay area. She installed herself in their homes for hours at a time—"trying to appear as unobtrusive as the family dog," she says—and later interviewed them at length. Most working women, she found, return home each evening to inescapable domestic responsibilities that amount to an extra month of work every year. Hochschild—who says her own husband, Adam, a writer, is one of those rare men who do share the housework equally—has published the results of her study in a new book, The Second Shift. She discussed her findings with correspondent Dianna Waggoner.
How helpful are most men at sharing the second shift?
I found that four out of five men don't share the work at home. Most men do something, but they're less likely to do the daily chores, like fixing breakfast or dinner. They are more likely to do chores that can be put off to an odd moment, like changing oil in the car or mowing the lawn. Women are more likely to do two things at once. They will be cooking and talking to their child, or on the phone and paying the bills. Women are more likely to take the mental responsibility for work at home. Men are more likely to say, "What do you want me to do, dear?"
How do men justify their behavior?
Some focus on the greater stress they feel they suffer from their work, even though research suggests that the most stressful jobs are low-level service jobs—the kinds of jobs often held by women. Men also frequently tell themselves, "I'm doing enough. It's more than my father did." But the measure they're comparing themselves with is the wrong measure. They should compare themselves with women.
Are men deluding themselves when they claim they share the burden, or are they just being manipulative?
Both. Underneath they vaguely realize that their contributions—picking up the dry cleaning, taking care of the car—are not equivalent to their wives'. But again it rests on whom they think it's appropriate to compare themselves with. If they compare themselves with co-workers or their fathers, then picking up the dry cleaning seems like enough.
Do most women ask their husbands to help around the house?
Many try, and many fail. The women I met who weren't asking their husbands to share now had asked in the past and met with resistance, which led to tensions in the marriage. The asking itself became one more chore.
Then there are those who force the issue, either actively, by trying to negotiate a new arrangement or insisting on a showdown—"If you don't do this, I'll leave"—or passively, by playing dumb or getting sick. I also hear a lot of stories about women going on strike. "I don't pack his lunch anymore," or "I just leave the laundry there." That can leave some bitterness on both sides.
A number of women you interviewed reported that their husbands shared the work load, but your observation of their lives suggested otherwise. How do you account for the discrepancy?
Women sometimes create myths about their husband helping to avoid arguments about it. And mothers of small children don't want to risk a divorce.
Also, many women feel grateful for any help they get. If you have even a semiequal deal, you're better off than some other woman, who has a husband who drinks or beats her up.
How does an unfair division of labor damage a marriage?
These couples lead enormously strained lives. Many of the women, though not all, are angry that all this is falling on them. Then they are remorseful that they are angry. As for the husbands, they pay a price by having to live with women who resent them.
How do the children suffer?
They have less time with their mother than they would if she weren't burdened with all the housework. And they get less of their father's time than they deserve. Men tend to do the fun, less frequent activities with kids, like going to the zoo, while women do the constant, maintenance activities—bathing, feeding, cutting the child's hair.
Some of the couples you studied were able to share the work. How did they manage it?
The men who shared all had wives who wanted them to share and who took their own work outside the home seriously. Also, these men all wanted to be fair to their wives and more active at home than their fathers had been; they went into marriage vowing to be different. It's not just a question of how men were brought up. It's a question of how they feel about how they were brought up.
Were the sharing couples happier in general?
They were much, much happier. There seemed to be more laughter, more "we" in their talk: "We did this, we did that."
What steps can couples take to remedy the second-shift syndrome?
What men can do is assume half the work and half the responsibility at home and ask much more of themselves as parents. They need to consider how they would be if their wives weren't there, if they were the primary parent.
Why have men been slow to do that?
I think it's because they consider it a falloff in their standard of living. They don't think change is in their interest. But sharing is in their interest. It's an investment in the happiness of their marriage.
Are changes in society necessary as well?
Yes. I think it would be good for couples to get together in neighborhood groups to talk over ways they can share. I would like to see workers get together and ask their bosses for job sharing, flex-time, part-time work and paid parental leave. I think getting men to share is only part of the solution. I'd like to see the
whole workplace adapt itself to the work force, nearly half of whom are women and a majority of whom are parents.
Do you think the situation will improve?
I think it is improving slowly. Studies from the '60s show that husbands of wives who worked full-time outside the home did 20 percent of the housework. In the '80s they're doing 30 percent. And most of the men I've talked to about my book have squirmed, but they've also agreed that it's reasonable.
I want to move beyond blame and get this problem solved. In an era of fragile marriage and easy divorce, the tension over the second shift is the biggest thorn in the side of the two-job marriage. It's time to take that thorn out.
On Newsstands Now
- Amy Robach: 'I'm Lucky to Be Alive'
- Paul Walker: Inside His Tragic Death
- Julia Roberts: Choosing Family Over Hollywood
Pick up your copy on newsstands
Click here for instant access to the Digital Magazine