Fairly valuing woman’s work is about more than cash

Alia’s post highlights how hard it is for employed women to find a happy mix of hours spent working versus caregiving. The issue stems, in part, from feeling that others don’t fairly value the time that working women spend on kids and household chores.

Bean counters can estimate the dollar value of household work. A couple could, say, use the U.S. Labor Department’s list of occupational wages to calculate that the five minutes a wife spends wiping down the table after dinner is worth about 90 cents. But that estimate doesn’t include all of the benefits that her family picks up with each swipe of the dishtowel. Children watching their mother clean after dinner learn to value a hygienic home and to take responsibility for caring for their property and the health of loved ones.

Here’s another issue: For women who like their jobs, paid employment is typically more interesting than doing another load of dishes. So even when a woman makes less than her partner, she may still feel like she’s giving up a lot — pay and psychological benefits — by taking on the lion’s share of housework.

While looking for data about household work, I came across an interesting table from the Labor Department’s annual estimate of how Americans use their time. Among employed adults with kids under 6, men work about 1.7 hours more than women per day. Employed women spend those 1.7 hours caring for kids, cooking and cleaning, among other activities.

ATUSExcelChart

Of note, even while an employed woman is at the office, she frequently acts as the default parent and homemaker, dealing with school nurses calling to get a sniffling kid picked up and arranging for the plumber to fix a burst pipe, all while responding to requests from her boss.

In homes where there’s a substantial pay difference between employed adults, an uneven split for household chores may be satisfactory. But even in these families, the division of labor may be too stratified, with working women’s household chores significantly undervalued.

Increasing men’s appreciation for the full economic worth of caregiving could help families move closer to a system that feels fair to each adult. When more men carve out more time to spend with their kids and at home, a greater share of the country will have a stake in properly valuing “woman’s work.”

–Ruth

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