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More money, more housework? Closing the gender gap at work AND at home

A recent story from CNN found that even though millennial women are working longer hours and earning more money than ever before, it hasn’t translated into easing their housework.

In other words, a couple may espouse gender equality, vowing to split housework evenly and contribute equally financially, but they fall short of in practice. Turns out, breaking free from long-established gender norms is easier said than done.

According to the Pew Research Center, which is cited in the CNN piece, 78 percent of young adult women surveyed in 2017 worked at least 50 weeks per year, up from 72 percent of employed young women in 2000. Millennial women ages 22 to 37 who work full-time are also making more money, according to the CNN report. Their median income in 2017 was $39,000, up from $37,100 in 2000.

Despite these advances toward tightening the gender gap in the workplace, research shows that time spent doing housework by men and women hasn’t adjusted accordingly. A June 2018 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that, on an average day, 19 percent of men reported doing housework like laundry, cleaning and other tasks, compared to 49 percent of women. 

We shared this story with the CPBJ Women in Leadership Facebook group and asked what the balance looked like in group members’ households. And boy (no pun intended), did it generate quite a response from young professionals, older professionals, single women, coupled women, moms and not-moms.

One of the most common themes in the conversation, particularly for women who live with a significant other, was the absolute necessity for clear and open communication to avoid falling back on gender norms that reinforce women’s responsibility for the bulk of housework.

Here were some of the perspectives shared:

So, speaking as a single mom, 100% of everything is on my plate. I get that the balance in partnered relationships is a juggle, and one that’s not always fair, but some days I’d be pretty thrilled to have someone do any of it.
 -Anne Parmer

When we were first married, I assumed (Ha. Ha.) that we had a shared vision of general household order and cleanliness … and anything he didn’t do was an intentional disregard for the division of labor … Main issue? Not the action but the perspective regarding the action (or not). The solution 21 years later? A shared sense of what’s “good enough.”
-Kathy Anderson-Martin

I think so much of it comes down to communication and doing what’s best for you and your family … some days it may be 50/50 but other days it may be 70/30, 90/10, etc. and you each have to be willing to pick up for the other person when it’s needed. In my house we definitely have our preferences of things to do, i.e., I’d prefer to do dishes vs. take out the trash, but we haven’t assigned each other to specific tasks. It’s about working together as a team to get things done.
Sara Schimmer Firestone 

I used to get so stressed out coming home from work and feeling like I was doing EVERYTHING, from cooking to cleaning, and taking care of our little one. Finally, one day my husband brought to my attention that he would be happy to do anything I ask, but I need to communicate with him what I need to do. He always felt like he was getting in my way … Once I realized in our case it was a communication issue, when there are tasks to be done, I simply say, “Tonight we need to do x,y and z – what would you like to take on?” and we work together as a team to accomplish these tasks so we both have time to relax and decompress from our work days after getting our toddler to sleep (which is also a team effort, but mainly the routine is carried out by my husband).
-Bree Monteith

I think when you start out in your career and have a marriage or relationship you can feel like you *have* to take everything on to prove it to yourself or to others that “I can do this!” As you age you realize that it’s okay to pick and choose what you take on.
-Amanda King

Now, I confess – being that this discussion occurred on the CPBJ Women in Leadership Facebook group, we never got a chance to hear the male point-of-view on this issue. Check out the CPBJ Young Professionals Facebook group, where I hope to get some more insight on this.

Becca Oken-Tatum
Becca Oken-Tatum is the web editor for the Central Penn Business Journal. She also coordinates and writes for CPBJ's monthly Young Professionals e-newsletter. Email her questions, comments and tips at [email protected].

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