The U.S. economy would be better off if men did more housework

The U.S. economy would be better off if men did more housework
Working women's productivity suffers because husbands aren't helping with housework, a new study shows. (Getty Images)

Women spend too much time on housework relative to men, new research suggests, and it’s probably dragging on U.S. productivity.

That’s the first finding in this week’s economic research wrap, which also looks at changes in the way women have spent their days in recent years and summarizes studies on spillovers from central bank balance-sheet normalization.

Less time for bringing home the bacon

Women have less time for on-the-job labor because they spend more time doing housework than their male counterparts — so they miss out when they’re working in fields that reward long hours, based on a new National Bureau for Economic Research study.

Sharing in housework would help women be more productive in their careers, according to the report. (Getty Images)

Some women shy away from jobs in fields that require long workweeks, knowing they won’t have the time: a 10 percent cut in free time for women reduces their share in high-hour occupations by about 14 percent relative to men, according to the researchers’ model.

In total, that difference in time spent on at-home labor results in an 11 percentage point gender wage gap, their analysis estimates. All of this may seem pretty intuitive, but here’s the surprise: The pattern hurts society as a whole. If labor were instead allocated in a gender-neutral way, welfare would increase and output per hour would climb by 5.4 percent as people made better use of their time, given their skills.

“Our main message is that developing a theory of time allocation and occupational choice is important for understanding the forces that shape gender differences in labor market outcomes,” the researchers from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, University of Toronto and Princeton University write.

(Hours, Occupations, and Gender Differences in Labor Market Outcomes, published July 2017 and available on the NBER website.)


The silver lining in the gender labor divide

On the bright side, women are finding a way to spend less time on chores and shopping, even if men aren’t stepping up to the plate when it comes to housework.

Analysis of American Time Use Survey data by Bank of America Merrill Lynch found that 46 percent of prime-age women engaged in housework in 2014 to 2016, versus 52 percent in 2003 to 2005. Where women did housework, they were spending five minutes less on it, on average. That shift came as prime-age men contributed a few more minutes of housework, but not enough to offset the gap, suggesting that tasks like laundry and cleaning are being outsourced, while online shopping is more efficient.

As they spent less time on chores, women worked and slept more, the data show. The trend is probably going to persist, the economists suggest, especially as groups of younger women become more educated — affording them the affluence to work more and spend time with their families while hiring someone else to do the dusting.

(A day in the life of a working woman, published July 28, and available to Bank of America subscribers.)

(Contact the author at [email protected].)

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