Summary of results in “Is Anyone Doing the Housework?”


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Over the past couple months, I’ve been writing some posts looking at quantitative research on the gendered division of domestic labor, specifically the article Is Anyone Doing the Housework? Trends in the Gender Division of Household Labor by Suzanne M. Bianchi and colleagues.

I started by looking at the abstract, which summarized the major finding that women cut the amount of housework they do almost in half between the 1965 and 1995 and men almost doubled how much they do. Here’s the graph from the article:


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Reading lists added to site



I’ve created two static pages, both under the Reading menu, above. The books and articles list is for published books and peer-reviewed research articles. The online articles list is for popular articles on places like Huffington Post or NPR.

Right now, much of it is material I’ve mentioned in blog posts. The lists also include things I’d like to blog about in the future. They will also include things I want to read, especially the books and articles list.

They’ll keep growing as I add things to them. At some point they’ll probably get long enough that I’ll have to break them down into categories.

Did you love “You should’ve asked”? Here’s some recommended reading.


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dishes_askedThe comic “You should’ve asked” by Emma has been going around my social media feeds. Anyone who knows me or has been reading this blog will not be surprised that I love it. I highly recommend reading it and then coming back to this post, but for me this frame summarizes the argument:


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Fighting about dishes on the road: The Oregon Trail


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I recently finished The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck. It had a great scene about dishes I wanted to share.

But first some background: Buck and his brother Nick are driving a covered wagon across The Oregon Trail. In Idaho, Buck’s friend Cindy and her friend Donna join them for a leg of the journey.

It was great, introducing some femininity to our wagon trip. But we nearly had a trail mutiny when we started unloading the wagon.

Back in Annapolis, Donna is a marathon entertainer and chef, and the kitchen in her McMansion sparkles like the glass counters at an Apple Store. Cindy had warned me about that—Donna needed a covered wagon trip, she said, to cure her neat freak—but I had forgotten what she said. When I handed out the plastic dairy cases that we kept our kitchen gear in, Donna looked at our pots and pans and dishes and stood straight up with one hand on her hip and the other pinching her nose.

“This is disgusting,” she said. “I am not cooking on top of filth like this.”

Cindy came over for a look herself.

“This is revolting,” she said. “Rinker, you used to be so clean and neat.”

I didn’t think our kitchen gear looked that bad. A few of our dishes were stuck together because the night before we had accidentally spilled some harness oil on them after dinner, and clusters of dog hair, hayseed, and oats had stuck to our fingerprints. I had scraped most of the scorched Minute Rice, Wesson Oil, and Hormel chili, no beans, off the pots and pans. Yes, our food coolers were shiny with cooking oil and axle grease and slipped out of our hands on a rainy day. But this was normal. Everything was shipshape, exactly as it should be on a covered wagon trip.

I explained to Cindy that I washed the dishes myself every morning.

“What did you wash them with?” Cindy said. “Motor oil?”

“A caveman wouldn’t eat on these plates,” Donna said. “Get out of here while we do a rescue clean.”

Nick walked over to see what the fuss was about. He pulled an undershirt out of our laundry bag and began rubbing the grime of the frying pan.

“Ladies, ladies, ladies,” he said. “Let’s not panic here. I’ve got some Grease Monkey Scrub in my tool kit and I’ll shine these pots right up for ya.”

Donna raised her voice now. “Go. Both of you. Out of this camp for an hour.”

Perhaps I could smooth things over by offering to help.

“Cindy,” I said. “While you wash, I can dry, okay?”

“Did you hear her, dickehead?” Cindy shrieked. “Out! Out of this camp! Why don’t you go somewhere and take a shower!”

“There’s detergent and Scotch Brite in the bottom of the green cooler,” I said. “I’ll get it for you.”

“Go! Out of this camp!”

I looked over my shoulder as Nick and I meekly walked toward town, and what I saw is still one of my favorite images of the trip. Cindy and Donna were bent over a plastic washbasin with our kitchen equipment spread out on the grass. Olive Oyl [Nick’s dog] snoozed in the shade of the wagon behind them. The pressure nozzle on the hose was spraying a rainbow-colored fan of water, and the wind picked up the foamy detergent along Cindy and Donna’s tanned arms and blew it away in bubbles.

When we got back an hour alter the whole camp smelled like Brillo pads and Palmolive cleanser. Cindy and Donna ha even washed the mule buckets, our camp chairs, and the wagon seat. (p. 376-377 of the paperback edition)

Reading the book, I really appreciated the quality of Buck’s prose in passages like this, the kind of prose that comes from a lifetime spent writing, both as a journalist and a book author. If you liked that passage, you might enjoy reading the whole book.

One thing I noticed comparing this story about fighting about dishes on the road to the previous one about #vanlife. In this passage the women had higher standards of cleanliness than the men. In the #vanlife article it was the man who had higher standards.

Fighting about dishes on the road: #vanlife


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Rachael Monroe recently had an article in The New Yorker entitled #Vanlife, the Bohemian Social-Media Movement. The subtitle explains: “What began as an attempt at a simpler life quickly became a life-style brand.”

Much of the article is a profile of Emily King and Corey Smith, who live in a van full-time and support themselves through product placements on social media, especially Instagram.

I read most of it aloud to my wife and frequently had to pause until she stopped laughing.

I know it’s partly confirmation bias, but I keep coming across discussions of dishes as a point of conflict. Here’s the passage in the article:

Everything is magnified, because it’s such a small space,” King told me. “The trash is in our face, the dishes are in our face, Corey is in my face, I’m in his face. Any personality conflicts, ego conflicts, it’s all right there.”

Most of the couple’s fights revolve around organization: when and how often to sweep out the van; whether they can wait until the morning to do the dishes; if they’re posting frequently enough. Smith is neat, and a self-described “planner”; when stressed, he can edge toward control-freak territory. (One afternoon, he watched me tear into a bag of corn chips and shook his head in disappointment. “You open bags wrong, too,” he said.) This regularly brings him into conflict with King, who is more flexible and fanciful, and occasionally prone to sloppiness.

Huffington Post: “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink”


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My friend Ali Stoyan told me about a blog post from 2016 on Huffington Post called She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink. In this passage the author, Matthew Fray, gets at why he thinks such conflicts are fundamentally about respect:

He wants her to agree with him that when you put life in perspective, a glass being by the sink when no one is going to see it anyway, and the solution takes four seconds, is just not a big problem. She should recognize how petty and meaningless it is in the grand scheme of life, he thinks, and he keeps waiting for her to agree with him.

She will never agree with him, because for her, it’s not ACTUALLY about the glass. The glass situation could be ANY situation in which she feels unappreciated and disrespected by her husband.

The wife doesn’t want to divorce her husband because he leaves used drinking glasses by the sink.

She wants to divorce him because she feels like he doesn’t respect or appreciate her, which suggests he doesn’t love her, and she can’t count on him to be her lifelong partner. She can’t trust him. She can’t be safe with him. Thus, she must leave and find a new situation in which she can feel content and secure.(Emphasis in original).

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Review of “Women Who Work” in New York Times


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I was one of the tens of thousands of people who subscribed to the failing New York Times after the election. Todays’ paper had a review of Ivanka Trump’s new book, in which Jennifer Senior describes it as “…a strawberry milkshake of inspirational quotes.”

This part was most relevant to the question of who does the dishes:

…a class bias at some point begins to reveal itself, and it’s not just in the business leaders she profiles — who, like Trump, are often the daughters of New York City’s elite. It’s in her discussion of Covey’s four-quadrant time-management grid, when she identifies grocery shopping as neither urgent nor important. (Do the groceries just magically appear in her fridge? Oh, wait. They probably do.) It’s in her confession that “honestly, I wasn’t treating myself to a massage or making much time for self-care” during the 2016 campaign. (Too busy.)

It’s in her description of her daily life, in which she somehow — until the election, anyway — managed to run her own company, serve as an executive vice president in the Trump Organization, train for a half marathon and spend time alone with each of her three children. Absent locating a wormhole in space, there’s really only one way to find time for all of these commitments, and that is with the help of staff. Yet her household help barely rates a mention in this discussion.Do the women who wash dishes in the homes of other households count as “women who work”? They’d better!  Who does the dishes in their homes? What do their quadrants look like?

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Three theories of housework and gender


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I’m continuing with posts looking at the research from 2000 by Bianchi, Milkie, Sayer and Robinson on the division of housework. On pages 193-196 they summarize three theoretical perspectives. In this context “theory” means an overall conceptual framework for understanding something. A general theory about how society works will lead to more specific hypotheses which researches can then test with data.

The three theories the authors present are:

  1. The time availability perspective
  2. The relative resources perspective
  3. The gender perspective

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Measuring the gender gap in housework: ratio vs. difference


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I’m continuing to look at some interesting passages from the 2000 article by Bianchi and her colleagues.

They have this observation about measuring the domestic labor gap:

It is customary in the research literature on gender differences in housework within households to focus on a ratio variable, either the ratio of husbands’ to wives’ housework hours or, more commonly, the percentage of total hours contributed by husbands. The problem with ratio dependent variables, particularly in regression analysis, is that it can be very difficult to sort out what a change in the dependent variable actually means, because the independent variable may be affecting the numerator of the ratio, the denominator, or both simultaneously. Husband’s share of housework can increase either because he does more or because his wife does less. We choose the difference measure for this analysis in order to present clear picture of how the independent variables affect not only the husband-wife gap in housework but also the components of that gap, the husband’s hours and the wife’s hours of housework.

Let me break that down for people who aren’t familiar with the statistics terminology. Continue reading

Why we shouldn’t focus only on married people


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I’m continuing with my posts about Bianchi, Sayer, Milkie, and Robinson’s work on the division of domestic labor. Last time I explained how their opening paragraph set up the key tension their article is addressing.

I’ll keep sharing some great passages in the article. (Again, you can read the whole thing for free, here.)

Early on, they explain why they include all household types, not just married people:

Most research about who does housework in American homes explores the allocation of domestic chores within married couples (see Shelton 1992 and South and Spitze 1994 for exceptions). We begin by focusing on all individuals regardless of marital status. Research that examines the effect of demographic, socioeconomic, and ideological variables on men’s and women’s housework time for all household types helps untangle how men and women in marriage differ from men and women outside marriage (Shelton 1992). Moreover, only by examining trends in household work for all individuals can one determine whether changes are a function of shifts in the compositional characteristics of the population (such as the decline in marriage) or social and cultural transformations (p. 193)

Let’s skip past a bunch of theory, methods and results tables—which we’ll come back to—to see how this was important to their findings. If you read my post about the abstract, you got a brief preview of this. Continue reading