The XX Factor

Even When They Don’t Have Jobs, Men Do Less Housework Than Women

Instead of doing housework or watching their children, many unemployed men surveyed watched TV.

Photo by baranq/Shutterstock

By now, it is well-documented that working women do more housework and child care than working men. This is what we call the “second shift”: Men and women both go off to work, but it’s women who come home to a whole other job. Conservatives like to argue that this is because men work more hours. But what happens when the men are out of work? Josh Katz at the Upshot put together charts, using data from the annual American Time Use Survey, comparing how much housework and caregiving “nonemployed” Americans do. He found that even when they don’t have an outside job to take up their time and energy, men still manage to do way less housework and child care than women.

“Over all, women are far more likely than men to devote a significant portion of their time to housework,” Katz writes. “Housework combined with our next category (caring for others) occupied almost six hours of the average woman’s day in our sample, compared with less than three hours for that of the average man.” The survey compared 147 women with 147 men. Out of that group, 81 women spent most of their time on housework or caring for others, compared with 34 of the men. 

So what were nonemployed men doing with their time, if not chasing children and cooking dinner? Watching TV was a big one. Despite the stereotype of the couch-bound housewife watching her soaps, the survey found that only 19 of the women spent most of their time watching TV, compared with 46 of the men. Similarly, 14 of the men spent most of their time on non-TV leisure activities, compared with only six of the women. This isn’t all that surprising a discrepancy, as time-use surveys that look at the population at large find that men spend an average of three more hours a week than women on leisure time, whereas women spend three more hours a week than men on housework. 

So what can be gleaned from this data? The small survey doesn’t say why any of the participants were unemployed, so it’s impossible to know exactly why a woman who doesn’t work might do more housework than a similarly situated man. But the most obvious conclusion is that women handle most housework and child care not because they have more time at home than men to handle this work, but because it’s understood as their duty to get this work done in a way that is not true for men. Perhaps women derive more of their identity from housework and child care than men do, so that when they are unemployed, it feels more obvious to use that time to take care of children and clean things than it does for men. But also perhaps more women are nonemployed because their housework and child care duties make work outside the home impossible. Also, as Hanna Rosin found in her research for The End of Men, being unemployed or underemployed is experienced by many men as emasculating. It’s unlikely that men who already feel emasculated by unemployment are going to feel great about using their extra hours on perfecting their vacuuming skills or learning how to cook.