I knew it, but it took a bunch of researchers to prove it. Marriage equals extra hours of housework for women, according to a new study from the University of Michigan. For men, getting hitched saves an hour of weekly chore time.
Well, duh. When you double the number of people, but halve the number of people who give a damn about cleanliness, that equals double the amount of work for the person who cares. And nine times out of 10, the person who cares is female.
Here we have another instance of scientists explaining what most wives already know. We depend on scientists to explain reality to our spouses, even when they are scientists themselves. But listening (or not listening) to your spouse is a whole ‘nother column.
Clearly, men’s household-chore time decreases after marriage, because men tend to put off cleaning until they’re faced with no alternative. When the slime on the bottom of the tub comes to life and starts devouring the towels, men take action. Women, on the other hand, tend to clean regularly. We battle slime at its microscopic level, long before it can reach monstrous proportions. So when we start sharing a home with a guy, we swoop in and compensate for our slackard, slime-decimating superheroes.
I do know men who are clean freaks — sometimes even cleaner than their female counterparts. I’ve also heard of double-X-chromosomed slobs. Like the U-Mich researchers, I’m generalizing here. Stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. In this case, I can attest that most of my mommy friends and I spend more time in housework mode than our spouses. And researchers agree.
Now I’m fantasizing about dual-female households. I think my sexual inclinations are fairly hard-wired at this point, but I could always join one of those fringe polygamy cults. No, that’s not my style either. Plus, regardless of gender, there’s probably always the opportunity for one of a pair to slack off if the other’s willing, even grudgingly, to pick up after both herself and her partner.
According to the study, kids increase mom’s number of housework hours even more. Duh again. The study doesn’t mention pets, but I can tell you that the combination of kids and pets equals thrice-daily vacuuming opportunities. Not that I always take those opportunities. Sometimes I wait until the hair/dirt/crumb mixture actually crunches under my footsteps. This makes me nostalgic for my single days, when vacuuming weekly was more than enough.
Division of labor has changed since the dark ages of the ‘70s. In 1976, women spent 26 hours per week cleaning kitchens and bathrooms, compared with 17 hours in 2005. Men are helping out more than they used to, increasing their housework hours from six in 1976 to 13 in 2005. Notice that they’re still not even close to the women’s average.
In my marriage, housework inequality will always exist. And I’ll always have a tiny bit of resentment about that inequality. What has saved my marriage is hired help. After my first baby was born, my grandfather offered to pay for a baby nurse. I couldn’t figure out how a baby nurse could help me, particularly as I was hoping to raise the kid using the attachment-parenting model. What I did need was food and cleaning help. My friends supplied the former, and I negotiated with Grandpa to pay for the latter. When that financial support ran out, I negotiated with Enviro-spouse to continue the cleaning help on a biweekly basis. This remains one of the most important victories of my marriage. And it has decreased my housework bitterness quotient a thousandfold.
Forget couples’ therapy: Hire someone to help clean your home.