Calculus of chores

Call it the new math of chores.

Optimum household harmony won't be achieved by working couples if they divide the chores in half.

Rather, each spouse should do 45.8 percent of the laundry, cleaning, shopping, and dishwashing, says Chloe Bird, a Brown University sociologist. The last 8.4 percent should be handed off to the kids, hired out, or let slide.

The key question: Am I under or over the 45.8 percent mark? (Don't feel compelled to answer, My Dearest.)

Professor Bird says that in dual-income US homes, wives estimate they do about 67 of the chores. Husbands say 36 percent.

To put it another way, married women log 40 hours of chores weekly, married men do 17 hours. The data show that when women go from being single to married, their household chore load goes up by 14 hours. But the just-married men only up their chore load by 90 minutes per week.

Why the chore workload rises when two people unite is fodder for another research project. I bet it has something to do with what I call the divergent MTF (Mess Tolerance Factor) - one spouse has a higher tolerance than the other.

Desperately seeking the flaw in this study, I think we may need to massage the actual hours with a HARD (How Arduous is the Remaining Drudgework) Index. Assign a level of misery to each chore. (This is the quality versus quantity gambit.) Should car maintenance (my job), for example, get the same weighting as balancing the check book (her job)?

There is one other option: Persuade your wife to become a full-time homemaker. These women are most content doing 80 percent of the chores, Bird reports.

*We're home. Tell us how we're doing. Write the Homefront, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115 or e-mail us at home@csps.com

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