Wars have a way of twisting facts into propaganda, and the “gender wars” are no exception. Normally, for example, the Department of Labor’s Time Use Survey would elicit only yawns. Accounts of how the average American over the age of 15 devotes 8.6 hours to sleeping, 3.7 hours to working, and 5.1 hours to leisure sell better as bird-cage liner than as serious news. But for gender warriors eager to answer a question that has plagued sitcoms for decades–Who has it rougher, women or men?–this report is a goldmine.
On the cutting edge as usual, the New York Times weighed in on this heavy topic with a piece titled, “Survey Confirms It: Women Outjuggle Men.” And the big news, apparently, was that there was nothing new to report:
It may fall into the category of Things You Knew but Could Never Prove, but a new survey by the Department of Labor shows that the average working woman spends about twice as much time as the average working man on household chores and the care of children. . . . The average working woman, for example, spends about an hour and a half a day caring for other members of the family, the average working man barely 50 minutes. Likewise, the average working woman spends more than 1 hour 20 minutes on household chores, the average working man less than 45 minutes.
A Feminist Majority press release echoed the Times’s conclusion: “At the end of the work day, two-thirds of the women surveyed started what women’s rights activists call their ‘double day,’ preparing meals and performing chores around the house.”
Of course, the New York Times and the Feminist Majority were about as likely to reach another verdict as Paul Krugman is to praise the president’s tax cuts. But the Times left in a clue that there could be more to this story, noting that “men spend more time than women both at their jobs and on leisure and sports.” In fact, the average working man’s workday is an hour longer than the average woman’s. That just about balances out the extra time women spend on housework and child care.
A fair examination of the data reveals that men’s days aren’t necessarily easier, just different. Women enjoy less “leisure” time than men, but personal telephone calls and email–which consume slightly more of women’s time–are categorized separately. Women also spend more time in “personal care” activities, which include sleeping and grooming; and more time “purchasing goods and services.” This last category certainly includes the thankless treks to the grocery store, but it also covers time at the hair salon and shopping at the mall–activities that could count as sport for many women.
The survey does reveal one striking difference between the genders: the effect of children on employed men and women. If a family has children under 18, employed women spend half an hour less in the office, while men stay at their jobs about 15 minutes longer.
This is likely to alarm feminist gender warriors who assume that formal work is preferable to time at home with children. Such a reaction reveals a paradox at the heart of the feminist movement: They profess to want to move beyond patriarchal society’s materialistic, capitalist metrics like money and career prestige, but lament when women opt out of that game.
Ultimately, the Labor Department data say little about the real lives of men and women. Many wives undoubtedly wish their husbands would pitch in more on housework and child care–and many men probably would prefer to spend less time in the office. People face balancing acts that are uniquely personal. Many women are undoubtedly conflicted about their desires for work and for hands-on parenting: Even those who jealously guard the extra hours they spend with their families probably wish for more hours in the day so that they could continue building a career. People have finite lives, and we all struggle with these kinds of tradeoffs.
The New York Times and Feminist Majority also have finite resources. It’s a shame they choose to waste them on inflaming a pointless gender war.
–Carrie Lukas is the director of policy at the Independent Women’s Forum.