Ways of Seeing

Initially we contacted couples by distributing a short questionnaire on work and family life to every thirteenth name drawn from the personnel list of a large corporation. Fifty-three percent returned the questionnaire. At the end of this short questionnaire we explained what we were inter­ested in and asked if respondents would be willing to volunteer for an in-depth interview. To supplement our list, we later asked the people we interviewed for the names of neighbors and friends who were also two-job couples with children under six.

We asked men and women, “Can you tell me about your typical day?” We found that wives were much more likely to spontaneously mention something to do with the house; 3 percent of wives but 46 percent of hus­bands didn’t mention the house at all in their spontaneous description of a “typical day.” Three percent of the women and 31 percent of the men made no spontaneous mention" of doing something for a child—like brushing hair or fixing a meal.

Working mothers also more often mentioned caring for people within the larger family circle: their own parents, their husbands’ parents, rela­tives, neighbors, friends, baby-sitters. One woman made sandwiches every Saturday for the neglected children of a neighboring working couple. An­other helped her baby-sitter through a marital crisis. Another phoned daily to a relative bedridden with a back injury. Another made Christmas cookies for neighbors. Similarly, when gifts or phone calls came, they of­ten came from busy working mothers. Men, especially working-class men, were often generous about giving time to move furniture, repair cars, or build additions on houses. But in most of these families, the communal circle of informal help seemed to be based more solidly on the informal work of women.

We also noticed that men spoke about chores in a different way— more in terms of chores they “liked and disliked,” would do or wouldn’t do. Women more often talked about what needed doing.

Men and women also tell somewhat different stories about how much

each contributes. For example, 25 percent of husbands and 53 percent of wives answer that the wife “always” anticipates household needs. Some re­searchers have tried to avoid this sort of “subjective wart” on otherwise ob­jective findings—by taking one or the other persons word for what each partner docs. To avoid this source of bias, our solution was to acknowl­edge and use the problem of subjective bias by averaging the husbands and wife’s estimates of the amount of time each contributed to ‘the set of chores about which I asked them. The tasks fell into three categories: housework, parenting, and management of domestic life. Under house­work we included such things as putting out the garbage, picking up, vac­uuming, making beds, cleaning bathrooms, doing laundry, routine meal preparation, cleanup, grocery shopping, sewing, car repairs, lawn, house­hold repairs, care for houseplants, care for pets, dealing with the bank. Under child care we included both physical care of the child (tending a child while sick, feeding, bathing the child, taking the child to daycare or to doctors) and educating the child (for example, daily discipline, read­ing). Under management of domestic life we included remembering, planning, and scheduling domestic chores and events, which included such tasks as making up the grocery list, paying bills, sending birthday and holiday cards, arranging baby-sitting, and preparing birthday parties of the child.

We found that 18 percent of men shared the second shift in the sense of doing half of the tasks in all three categories. These 18 percent of men didn’t necessarily do half of the same tasks as their wives did; they did half of the tasks in each category overall (these 18 percent did 45 to 55 per­cent; none did more); 21 percent did a moderate amount (between 30 and 45 percent); and 61 percent did little (between 30 percent and none).

Updated: 12.11.2015 — 15:10