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.The dependent variable is the thing the research is explaining. In this case it’s the division of household labor.
An independent variable is a thing that researchers think (hypothesize) will have an effect on the dependent variable.
So the value of the dependent variable depends on the value of the independent variable.
Social scientists almost always look at several independent variables at the same time. For example, in this article the authors looked at the impact of employment, age, education and a few other variables.
The numerator is the top number of a fraction. The denominator is the bottom number. So, in the fraction 2/3 the numerator is 2 and the denominator is 3.
To illustrate the problem with the ratio approach, let’s say in Household A the husband does 20% of the household labor and in Household B the husband does 40%. Clearly Husband B does twice as much work as Husband A, right?
Not so fast! 20% and 40% of what? Maybe Household A has 20 hours total labor (for a 4-to-16 hour split) and Household B has 10 hours total labor (for a 4-to-6 hour split). In this case the two husbands are the same number of hours of work, but the difference in the ratio is how much the wives are doing. In those cases the gap in Household A is 12 hours and Household B’s gap is 2 hours.
What if Household A has 10 total hours of labor and Household B has 20? Then the split is 2-to-8 hours, for a gap of 6 hours. The split in Household B is 8-to12, for a gap of 4 hours. Note that the gaps are now fairly close, but Husband B is working four times as many hours as Husband A.
(As before, the bolding in the quotation is my emphasis.)