What do girls and chores have to do with the gender gap?
The gender gap may be narrowing in the workplace, but with girls and chores it is still a different story. If young girls do as their mothers do, how do we break the cycle? Does the change need to start in the home and in childhood?
Stereotypes of women doing work around the house, while men go off to work, are nothing new. But now women make up just under half the workforce in both the UK and the US. So why do females still consistently perform more housework than their partners?
Recent studies show that this gender divide starts as early as childhood. One revealed that out of children aged 15 to 19, girls did 45 minutes of chores each day compared with 30 minutes by boys. A UK survey by Santander concluded that for every £6.99 paid to boys for doing chores, girls received only £4.18. Another study from the US, that analysed users of the BusyKid chore app, revealed that boys were paid $13.80 per week, over twice that of the $6.70 girls were paid. All this points to the idea that we are still, subconsciously, teaching our daughters that the home is their domain.
So why do girls end up doing more chores?
So why is it that women end up taking the lions share of household work? Well, Christia Spears Brown, a children and gender specialist from the University of Kentucky, describes the problem as being ‘generationally perpetuated’. From the results of these studies, it seems girls are asked and expected to do more work around the house for no, or less, reward. On the other side boys are incentivised and praised when they do housework. This teaches girls to take on domestic tasks as a matter of course, while boys may learn that they are just ‘helping out’. So girls and chores ends up being a more obvious match.
This kind of behaviour may lead to women taking responsibility for the phenomena Dorothy Dalton describes as, ‘invisible work’. It constitutes extra hours of unpaid labour for household tasks. This includes tasks such as organising appointments, tidying, signing permission slips, and grocery shopping. It may be that men are happy to help with these tasks, but they often don’t naturally take the initiative to undertake them without being asked. In short men end up attaching less value to domestic work and cleanliness, and vice versa for women. Shouldering this responsibility ‘just happens and creeps up on them [women]’, Dorothy continues. This makes it a difficult problem to tackle.
As with girls and chores, often sexism can be hard to spot. 3Plus can help make your office an equal space for both genders with our Unconscious Bias Training Workshops.
What does this mean in later life?
So, if women are subconsciously taught to take on this ‘invisible’ workload, alongside a career, does it hinder them from progressing further in the workplace? The extra unpaid hours that women work at home, inevitably does lead to them having less time and energy to put into their careers. It has been suggested that more household responsibility is an important factor leading to the career and pay gap between men and women.
Another effect of the childhood chore gap, is that the incentivisation and praise for young boys doing domestic tasks often continues into adulthood. Within heterosexual couples, men that take on an equal percentage of housework or childcare are often praised as being an exceptionally good partner or father. On the other hand, women doing the same is viewed by society as the norm.
What is the solution?
So, what is the answer to the household gender gap? Should we teach boys to care more about household work, or teach girls to care less? Oliver Burkeman from the Guardian discusses exactly that. He deliberates over the idea that men don’t do as much housework, but also don’t have as exacting standards. Perhaps if women lowered their standards on domestic cleanliness in the home, then everyone could do less housework altogether. Wouldn’t that make everyone much happier?
An interesting theory, but it may not solve the underlying issue. Perhaps for now we need to start with equal pay at home, and asking our sons to help out with the ironing. The gender gaps starts at home and in childhood.
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