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The Economic Reason Why Men Should Do More Housework

Aug 01, 2017

Women spend too much time on housework relative to men, new research suggests, and it's probably dragging on U.S. productivity. That's the first finding in this week's economic research wrap, which also looks at changes in the way women have spent their days in recent years and summarizes studies on spillovers from central bank balance-sheet normalization. Check this column each Tuesday for new and topical research from around the world.

Less time for bringing home the bacon

Women have less time for on-the-job labor because they spend more time doing housework than their male counterparts — so they miss out when they're working in fields that reward long hours, based on a new National Bureau for Economic Research study. Some women shy away from jobs in fields that require long workweeks, knowing they won't have the time: a 10 percent cut in free time for women reduces their share in high-hour occupations by about 14 percent relative to men, according to the researcher's model.In total, that difference in time spent on at-home labor results in an 11 percentage point gender wage gap, their analysis estimates. All of this may seem pretty intuitive, but here's the surprise: the pattern hurts society as a whole. If labor were instead allocated in a gender-neutral way, welfare would increase and output per hour would climb by 5.4 percent as people made better use of their time, given their skills."Our main message is that developing a theory of time allocation and occupational choice is important for understanding the forces that shape gender differences in labor market outcomes," the researchers from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, University of Toronto and Princeton University write. Hours, Occupations, and Gender Differences in Labor Market OutcomesPublished July 2017Available on the NBER website

The silver lining in the gender labor divide

On the bright side, women are finding a way to spend less time on chores and shopping, even if men aren't stepping up to the plate when it comes to housework.

A new Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysis of American Time Use Survey data show that only 46 percent of prime-age women engaged in housework in 2014 to 2016, versus 52 percent in 2003 to 2005. Where women did housework, they were spending five minutes less on it, on average. That shift came as prime-age men contributed a few more minutes of housework, but not enough to offset the gap, suggesting that the tasks like laundry and cleaning are probably being outsourced, while online shopping is more efficient.As they spent less time on chores, women worked and slept more, the data show. The trend is probably going to persist going forward, the economists suggest, especially as younger groups of women have become more educated — affording them the affluence to work more and spend time with their families while hiring someone else to do the dusting.

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