Mr. Mom? Men Doing More Chores

ByGeraldine Sealey

Oct. 14, 2003 -- 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.

Barbara McVicar of Orchard Beach, Maine, says she feels like she has two of everything, two jobs and two kids, even though she has one of each. Her second "child": her husband. Her second job, after getting home from full-time receptionist work: doing an estimated 20 hours of housework each week. She is disappointed with her husband's contributions around the house.

"He doesn't even mow our lawn," said McVicar, 49. "Our neighbor does because she has a compost pile and wants the clippings. When he asks if there is anything he can do, I just laugh and tell him to look around. Pick something."

Anecdotally, many women, like McVicar, still complain about doing the bulk of the "third job" in dual-earner households. If women do not ask their husbands to help, they may never get the assistance they need.

"The primary mechanism through which men do more is women demanding more, cajoling, setting up situations in which men feel more obligated to do it," said Coltrane.

But Coltrane also points out that men are doing more, whether it's because they want to reduce their wives' stress, take care of their children, or because they grew up doing housework.

Younger men and men who have been divorced are more likely to share in housework.

Some women may not believe it, but there are men out there who actually like doing housework — even those chores long considered "women's work," such as cleaning.

Take James Willis, 25, of Abilene, Texas. Since he left his parents' home seven years ago, he has been cleaning — and continues even now that he is married.

"My wife hates to work in the kitchen or fold clothes," he said. "I love cleaning. It takes away my everyday frustration. I just can't stand a dirty refrigerator, cabinets and floors."

In fairness, Willis' wife has her hands full. She stays home to care for the couple's two children, ages 2 and 4, and is due to give birth again any day now. After putting in 12-hour days in his job at an Air Force base hospital, Willis goes home and does the chores.

Not all of his male friends understand his affinity for housework, Willis says.

"I have some friends who think it's a woman's job to clean; they won't do anything," he said. "I don't believe cleaning the house makes you any different of a person. It's good for a guy to do that. Someday you might be without your wife, and you might be the only one."

There are other marital benefits to men sharing in household chores. According to research conducted by John Gottman at the University of Washington, wives are more likely to be sexually attracted to husbands who help with housework. Women see help with chores as a sign of love and caring, Gottman says.

Women who get household help from their husbands are also less likely to show signs of depression. So far, research shows that when men do more around the house, their stress levels do not substantially increase. But the positive impact for their wives is huge.

"If you look at depression checklists with questions like 'how often do you feel like crying?' it helps with women's mental health if men do more around the house," said Coltrane.

Some women dissatisfied with how their husbands do "wifely duties" take action in their own way.

Rebecca Bradley of San Diego went "on strike" five years ago. She wanted to see just how dirty her house got.

"The place got disgusting. My husband finally figured out I meant it — I would cook but he would clean. The rest of the chores would be shared. That is how it works to this day — and I've taught some of my girlfriends this same concept … Now we're partners without resentments. I think he's proud that he is a partner too."