By day, Dan Mulvenon works full time as vice president of public relations for a cable TV cooperative. By night, he's often doing housework — maybe shopping for groceries, paying the bills, vacuuming or running errands near his Olathe, Kan., home.
It's only fair, he says. When his sons, now 20 and 16, were younger, Mulvenon was on the road a lot for work and his wife did virtually all of the housework. Now, Mulvenon's wife works a stressful job as a trauma case manager in a major Kansas City hospital, and she's getting a master's degree. So the couple shares chores.
"I think turnabout is fair play," said Mulvenon, 48, who doesn't consider himself heroic for sharing housework. "I talk to the neighbors or people at work, and I don't think I do substantially more [than other men do]. It's part of the cultural shift. Men understand it just takes more cooperation to get these things done."
Statistically, Mulvenon is right on. Men are doing more around the house.
Fathers do about two hours of housework on any given weekday — that's 42 minutes more per day on average than in 1977. Meanwhile, mothers have reduced their daily chore time by approximately 42 minutes a day, according to the National Study of the Changing Workforce by the Families and Work Institute, which surveys representative samples of the U.S. work force every five years.
Mothers, though, are still doing more, according to the latest data. Women in dual-earner families put in about three hours of housework a day — one-third more than their husbands.
"What we're seeing is the catching up of the sexual and labor market forces, that men are picking up somewhat more of the slack at home. Men are slowly and sometimes reluctantly assuming more of daily tasks," said Scott Coltrane, sociology professor at the University of California, Riverside, and author of Family Man. "I have seen lots of change in one generation."
Ray Kopczynski, 55, of Albany, Ore., does kitchen cleanup after his wife cooks the meals. He stacks the dishes, she loads the dishwasher. He does his laundry, and his wife does hers. He vaccuums and changes bed linens about half the time, he says.
"Do I do enough? Personally, I don't think so, but after 31 years of marriage, I don't believe I'll be changing a whole heck of a lot," Kopczynski said.
Not surprisingly, the division of household labor has shifted as women's work-force participation goes up. Almost 80 percent of married workers live in dual-income households now, compared to 66 percent in 1977. And those dual-earner couples are working more outside the home, putting in 91 hours of work, compared to 81 in 1977.
For Mulvenon, dividing the labor is about maintaining peace and sanity. "It just reduces stress overall. Neither one of us is thrilled with some of the stuff that needs to be done around the house, but it's part of owning a house and having a committed relationship," he said.
If only every home in America could find such balance in the age-old war over chores. Unfortunately, who does what around the house still manages to rankle spouses and add more stress to already harried lives.