Is It Just Sexism Why Women Spend More Time Working at Home than Men?

According to a Global Home Index study of 20 countries around the world, men spend 11 hours a week on household chores, while women spend 17, which is 51-percent more. (Seriesalfayomega)

EspañolFred Flintstone operates his dinosaur crane until the buzzer sounds the end of his shift. He celebrates and runs to his car, and moments later his whole family gets in with him. Wilma, his wife, is there. She does the housework, receives the famous greeting from Fred each afternoon: “Wilma, I’m home!”

It’s the intro to the famous animated series, “The Flintstones,” created in the ’60s by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, but whose audience has spanned several generations. On “The Flintstones,” the family unit is what we could call “traditional” because the “head of the household” works outside the house to earn money while the wife is a full-time homemaker.

This situation is no longer as universal as it once was, though similar dynamics certainly persist. According to a Global Home Index study of 20 countries around the world, men spend 11 hours a week on household chores, while women spend 17, which is 51-percent more.

Looking at data from various countries shows that hours dedicated to housework range from six in Italy for men to as much as 23 in Argentina for women. In every country included in the survey, men spend fewer hours than women on household chores.


Hours Dedicated to Housework: Number of Hours per Week (Red =Women; Black = Men) Source: Graph Created based on data from Global Home Index

This type of data is often described as demonstrating an unfair situation for women, representing discrimination in the labor market that forces women like Wilma to stay at home.

The Global Home Index itself, in fact, suggests that the data “has been interpreted as concrete manifestations of inequalities between (men and women),” and as a disadvantage for women trying to fulfill their professional goals. The data shows as a concrete reality that women suffer from discrimination.

The economy of a family

Except the analysis above is only one path of interpretation. A simple economic analysis could shed a different light on why women spend more time at home.

If we think of a marriage as a work team, we can see that for both of those involved it is more convenient to specialize in what each does best. Women may have a comparative advantage over men in household chores.

  Benefits to working at home Benefits to working outside of the home
Men 5 10
Women 10 10

The above table shows the benefit that both men and women can bring to the “family team” by specializing in tasks inside and outside the home. Given this example, if the woman devotes all her time to the household, while the man devotes the same effort to working outside the home, then the combined benefit amounts to 20 points.

If they reverse these roles, then the man would contribute five points, while the woman would contribute 10, resulting in a lower overall score of 15 points.

Note that in this case, both are equally efficient working outside the home. That is, we assume that the salary paid is identical. However, women have a considerable advantage in domestic work.

It would be an economically sound and rational decision for women to devote more hours in the house than men. That is to say, we aren’t facing a problem of discrimination, but rather one of efficient economics.

Capitalism frees women

The above table is is a simple demonstration of David Ricardo’s analysis, but on a family level. However, the concrete realities change with time and even more, as the market economy progresses.

In his work, “Capitalism and the Family,” Steven Horwitz explains in detail how technological advances have created countless devices that save hours of time in domestic production, while economic growth has raised the demand for labor, adding increasingly more women to the labor market.

The economist Mercedes D’Alessandro addresses the situation in her book “Feminist Economics,” arguing that “in the 1960s only two out of 10 women worked outside the home” but that “today there are almost seven out of 10.” Today, there are more women working and competing side by side with men than ever before.

It’s likely that in many families, the graph above will change if the trend continues, and the comparative advantage of women in the household will no longer be so great.

Economics is an open and constantly changing process, the result of millions of individual decisions. Thus, it is very difficult to comprise static and universal data on hours worked in the home. These points need to be clarified, as the decisions that are made to solve alleged injustices can become worse remedies than the sickness itself.

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