Monday, May 28, 2007

Birthrates and Housework

I have alluded before to the connection between distribution of housework and but I was not aware until recently about a small study that showed exactly that. I pulled a few quotes from a BBC News summary about the study.
The researchers from Brown University studied 265 married couples in which both partners were employed.

The husbands and wives were asked to report how much time they and their spouses spent per week on nine common household tasks, such as cooking, shopping and cleaning.

...81% of couples in which the husband does at least half the housework will have a second child.

...when the woman did between 54% and 84% of the housework, the likelihood of the couple having a second child went down to 55%.

...more traditional couples, where the woman did more than 84% of the housework, frequently went on to have a second child.

She (Christine Northam, a counsellor for Relate) said some couples may decide it is better for one half to stay at home and take on all of the household tasks. "If one of them is taking complete responsibility for the housework it means the other one doesn't have that on top of everything else. "It may well indicate that one of them had decided to stay home and look after the family, in which case maybe for that couple having a family is more of a priority than working," she said.
Reading this, it looks like women who expected an egalitarian marriage but did not get one, are the ones most likely to stop after one child. It is the expectation versus the reality that causes low birthrates.

The one child family is the norm in many countries such as Italy and Australia. No wonder health and pension ministers from those nations have been trying to get men in their countries to do more housework. I wonder when American politicians are going to "get it".

I am also surprised by people who talk about falling birthrates as if that would be the answer to the huge influx of immigrants we have experienced in recent years. The reason we need so many immigrants is partly because American parents, particularly mothers, are so overworked.

Remember the quote from Sharon Lerner from the What do I tell her? post? She said that birthrates in the US would be as low as in Europe if it weren't for high-fertility recent immigrants. It is easier to build 20 foot fences around our borders than to take a hard look at home.

The anthology, Global Woman, may be somewhat uneven, but it contains some excellent, well-researched treatments of the global effects of "the care deficit" at home. When women do not get the help that they need nearby, they look farther for solutions. That is as true for the wife in a dual-career household in the USA as the single mother in Mexico who leaves her children behind with relatives to seek paid work "El Norte". Both women are doing what they must do for the survival of themselves and their children. Why do we know Zoe Baird's name but not her husband's?

Aside:
In the preface to the second edition of The Second Shift, Arlie Hochschild wrote that the narrowing of the gap between percentage of housework performed by husbands and wives in dual-career couples is not because the men do more. It is because the wives have outsourced more of it. In fact, husbands are doing less now than in her initial study.

I would like to add that people work at different efficiencies. Just because a husband expends 30% of the household work hours in a home does not mean that he performs 30% of the work. ;-)

I also encountered this article about division of labor between the sexes in Turkey in the BBC News archives. Mark wonders why Europe prefers immigrants from Turkey over east Asia.

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