Attitudes about housework don't always match behavior


By Lisa Sheppard

In the battle of the sexes over housework and child care, men are not always to blame when women carry a heavier load of responsibilities. Women can be reluctant to give up their traditional roles, UI research shows.

A mail survey of 450 married UI employees and their spouses, with an average age of 44, showed that attitudes about housework don't always match with behavior, or who does the work.

While the roles of women outside the household have changed dramatically, responsibilities in the home have changed only slightly, said Vicki Fitzsimmons, a professor of family economics.

Female respondents said they did 18 household tasks -- those largely perceived as "women's work" -- either more than their husbands or by themselves. Among the chores were planning meals, shopping, preparing food, making appointments, doing the laundry, balancing the checkbook, cleaning, and caring for children.

Even though women take responsibility for the chores, at least half of the men and women surveyed agreed that some should be shared equally, including shopping for food, daily care of the children, laundry, cleaning and making appointments for the family.

The wives said that other tasks should be shared, such as preparing food, taking children to appointments, shopping for clothes and vacuuming, but their husbands did not agree.

"When women have liberal attitudes about who should do the work, the incongruence with conventional behavior can cause conflict," Fitzsimmons said. "Conflict can lead to high stress levels, emotional distress and even marital instability."

Instead of blaming men for not doing their fair share, couples need to analyze why they are not doing what they believe to be right in sharing housework, Fitzsimmons said. In some cases, she said, women are reluctant to give up territory to spouses or to lower their standards of cleanliness. Thus, the view of wife as homemaker continues even though many women are the primary or co-breadwinners.

Other findings include:

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