Cathy Arnst

Fellow Working Parent blogger Anne Tergesen stirred up a firestorm last week with her entry, The Elusive 50/50 Division of Labor, in which she raised the oft-heard complaint that men don't pull their weight at home. Lots of comments, for and against, most based on the commenter's own experience or perceptions. What we need here is a little data, and three economists have gotten together to provide us with some, in a new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Their discovery, based on surveys from 25 countries that ask people how they spend their time: when you combine outside work and house work, men and women in the U.S. both work an average of 7.9 hours a day (that includes weekends). Yes folks, we're even.

There are some differences. Men in the U.S., as well as other wealthy countries, average 5.2 hours of work for pay, or market work, a day and 2.7 hours of home work, while women average 3.4 hours of market work and 4.5 hours of home work. So the women are doing more of the cleaning and childcare, but its not close to the second shift that many assume women are putting in.

Incidentally, the data even surprised other economists, according to the researchers.

The study sheds light on the common misconception that men enjoy more leisure time than women. In a poll of economists, sociologists and the public, the researchers found most people believe women work more in total than men. "There is the stereotypical idea of a man who works nine to five and then leaves the laundry and cooking to his wife," says Daniel Hamermesh, economist at the University of Texas at Austin. "But we're seeing traditional roles evolve to a point where that is not the norm." The exceptions to the finding were Italy and other Mediterranean countries where women typically do far more housework than men and thus, work more total hours.

The researchers also found that, although men in many rich countries do not work less then women, they do enjoy about 20 to 30 minutes more leisure per day because they spend less time on sleep. Men spend almost all of this additional free time watching TV, so at least one stereotype holds up.

I'd also like to throw my personal opinion into this debate, though I realize, as a single parent, I'm not totally qualified. But I have often observed that many of my women friends that complain the most about lack of help from their husbands either don't ask for that help, or don't think it's good enough when given. As I sometimes point out to them, "Of course he can do it. After all, what would he do if you dropped dead, put the kids up for adoption?"

Sad to say, I know of a family where the mother did die, four years ago from cancer when her girls were 4 and 10. She was a friend of mine, a bit of a control freak, and very much ran the house--her husband did virtually nothing. But he has certainly stepped up since. Sure, the house doesn't look like it did when my friend was alive, and he's not nearly as organized, but the kids are healthy, fed, clothed, and are signed up and get to all their extracurricular activities, including camp, on time. They are also a lot more self-sufficient than those kids whose mothers take on all the chores. The younger daughter is close friends with my daughter, and she recently invited her to a birthday slumber party. There was no fancy invite written by the mom and sent out weeks before. Instead, she called the day before. But so what, the party was a great success, the kids had a great time, and her dad managed to take them all out for pizza for dinner and make breakfast for 8 girls the next morning, Maybe that's the difference--her mother would never have agreed to a slumber party for 8!

So let's hear it for all those dads who do step up, for at least 2.7 hours a day. I knew you could do it.

If you'd like to read another take on the work load study, there's an excellent piece in Slate by an economist.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.