One of my worst tactical moves around our home is to reopen negotiations with my wife on how the hosuehold chores are to be shared. Somehow, I always come out looking worse than when I began.
But apparently I'm not alone. Three Sociologists have poked deeply into how other couples divide up the housework -- and their findings offer plenty of cause for many wives to reopen negotiations.
Among the findings from their sampling of nearly 800 urban married couples across the United States:
* Wives with full-time jobs stll devote almost a quarter of their day to housework.
* Only 5 to 10 percent of the nation's husnand-and-wife households share housework about evenly. In most families, the woman still does 80 to 90 percent of the housework, even when she takes an outside job.
* Couples who share the housework evenly, for the most part, are not the young, college-educated, liberal-minded families. Rather, the most equal sharing occurs among retired couples, because the husband has more free time than he did when he was working and helping to rear children.
* Husbands use a variety of dodges to get out of additional housework, such as unfamiliarity with how all-temperature soap powder works, lapses of memory on where things are kept, and procrastination that outlasts the wife's patience -- so that she ends up doing the task herself.
(At this point I started feeling like a secret agent whose cover has just been blown.)
* For the most part, women in the US are not complaining about housework.
The study was conducted by Richard and Sarah Berk of the University of California at Santa Barbara and Catherine Berheide of Skidmore College in New York.
In their sampling, 748 wives were asked to keep a diary of one full day's household chores. Some 350 husbands were asked to fill out questionnaires on their household tasks.
The study found that a full-time homemaker spends eight hours a day on housework, the part-time employed woman seven hours, and the full-time employed woman five hours.
(In comparison, other studies have shown that men spend 10 to 15 hours a week on housework, says Professor Berheide.)
And a close look at what the women do expands the traditional definition of housework. Counted as housework in this study are such duties as chold care (including driving the children to events and activities outside the home), gardening and lawn care, planning dinners, grocery shopping, and even fixing the garage roof.
When a woman takes an outside job, it is the children -- not the husband -- who pitch in the most on housework, the study found.
The husband usually picks up one additional task, such as washing the dishes. And often he makes sure this contribution does not go unnoticed.
Some chores just get done less often when the woman starts working. "There are women who scrub the floors once a day; others do it once a year," says Professor Berheide.
But these findings are not likely to set many working wives trying to renegotiate household chores, professor Berheide says. Most families cling to their established divisions of labor, finding changes difficult.
As for me, I'm still trying to figure out if my trips to the laundromat equal my wife's trips to the grocery store. But maybe I'd better quit while I'm ahead , since my dishwshing definitely takes less time than my wife's cooking.