October 21, 2019

Household Labor: Inside a Sociologist’s Family

Schoepflin Housework

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author photoBy Todd Schoepflin

One of my favorite topics in sociology is how couples arrange the work of running a household. It’s constant work to cook, clean, do laundry, repairs, and so on. Mix in caring for children if you have them, and that’s even more work that has to be done.

Knowing how much work my wife and I do at home, I think often of single parents who do the work themselves. Conflict can arise for couples when the division of labor is unequal. One of the best known books in sociology is The Second Shift (1989), written by Arlie Hochschild. It’s a book that influenced me to think deeply about how to contribute to housework and childcare.

Most of the men in her study didn’t share the labor of completing household tasks. (Here’s a video of Hochschild talking about her research for the book.) As she explains, the second shift is all the work that has to be done at home for working parents. And her study showed that much of this second shift work was completed by women. Couples often argued about inequalities surrounding this work. She found that women spent more time doing housework and childcare, and that a lot of husbands were supportive of their wives working so long as their wives managed the household. Couples were happier when they truly shared housework and childcare—and this is something I keep in mind when it comes to the daily work of operating a household with my wife.

In this podcast, my wife and I chat about the busyness of our lives and how we divvy up our housework and childcare responsibilities. My wife has a stressful job as a social worker, one that involves a lot of emotional labor. We’re both tired after our work days, all the more reason for us to coordinate our responsibilities and be a team when it comes to doing the work that must be done. I’ve been wanting to blog about this topic for a long time, but it felt odd to write about it only from my perspective. It made more sense to talk about it with my wife.

Discussion questions:

  1. What do you think are effective ways to divide housework and childcare?
  2. Do you think equality can be achieved for a couple in the way they arrange housework and childcare?
  3. What solutions would you suggest to a couple who argues about housework or childcare?

Related readings:

“The Second Shift and Workplace Policies”

“The Difference Between a Happy Marriage and Miserable One: Chores”

“For a better marriage, partners should share these chores”

“'She doesn't notice what I've done': five couples on how they split the housework”

“Married Women Do More Housework Than Single Moms, Study Finds”

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