In grad school I remember attending a talk where the speaker said:
1. When asked what percentage of the household work one does, BOTH members of a couple tend to say they do about 60%.
2. Marriages in which partners don’t keep score tend to be more successful.
Over the years, I’ve reminded myself of these two things when feeling aggrieved. They have helped me to maintain perspective. They help me remember that my husband does lots of things I don’t see, and that I’m probably overestimating my workload, and that anyway, constantly monitoring our relative contributions is more likely to lead to resentment than harmony.
But then I started thinking, where did these claims come from? Am I even recalling them correctly? And are these happy marriages also egalitarian marriages, and marriages where both partners have careers?
I tried to track down the original claims, but failed, mainly because the world of research on division of household labor is just so FREAKY. It’s incredibly easy to get distracted. By things, for example, like this web article on the amount of housework male and female scientists do, which sports the following alarming figure.
Good thing I’m a social scientist. I’m sure our stats look NOTHING like that.
The literature is all about hetero married people, which happens to fit my situation, and one generalization keeps emerging. Men tend to overestimate their contributions. Partly because men are more likely to do things like car stuff and yard stuff, both of which take far less time (because they’re occasional as opposed to constant time sucks). Women don’t. We tend to be nice and accurate about how much work we do.
While I was home with Bun Bun, I did the daily housework, because it seemed fair. Mr Bunny and I still did our monthly complete house cleaning together, and I’d wait till he got home and took Bun Bun before making dinner, but I did the laundry and the dishes and the tidying and whatever else.
My brief stint in this role taught me two things.
One: I am not capable of doing everything. I know there are women who manage it–care for the baby, deal with the house, probably manage to look purty at the end of the day… I gots mad respect, because I can’t fucking imagine it. I feel like I would have died if I’d had to squeeze vacuuming and dusting and baking an apple pie into Bun Bun’s nap slots. And she even naps. Not all babies are so generous. And then there’s the awesomeness of nobody, not even your partner, appreciating how much work it is. I got a tiny taste of that… It was a little peep into what mothers in those TV ads are complaining about–the ones where they are constantly vacuuming even as their troupe of asshole kids track mud all over…
Two: If I don’t keep score, I’m begging to do more than my share. I’ll probably end up doing more than my share regardless, but I think being a resentful nag is going to work out better than being all la di dah. Because Mr. Bunny tended not to notice as my share crept every higher. He’s a helpful, egalitarian, thoughtful guy, but I think my share could get pretty close to 90% before he’d notice.