Housework: Who’s got it tougher? | Women's Agenda

Housework: Who’s got it tougher?

Young Aussie blokes are pitching in with the housework to such an extent some feel cheated they are doing the lion’s share.

Despite the Australian Bureau of Statistics Gender Indicators report recently confirming females are still doing double the number of chores of men, counsellor Mary-Jo Morgan is seeing the flip-side to the age-old debate.

The Relationships Australia (WA) supervisor is surprised by the number of dual-income couples without children where the male is frustrated by the division of labour at home.

“I am seeing a number of younger men – in their 20s and early 30s – who are complaining about doing all the work,” Morgan says.

“The expectation of a lot of working women now is that they hold their own and some men have been quite surprised by it.

“When I explore it further the men tend to have also come from a family where the dad was very active and participated in the family dynamics in terms of things like housework and cooking. The harsh reality is we tend to emulate what we grew up with, whether we liked the behaviour or not.”

According to the OECD Better Life Index (Work-Life Balance) men in Australia spend 172 minutes per day cooking, cleaning or caring – one of the highest scores across OECD countries. However, this is still less than Australian women, who spend 311 minutes per day, on average, on domestic work, including looking after children.

Using OECD figures, Women’s Agenda randomly selected 10 countries to see how Australian women fared with their overseas counterparts in terms of doing more housework than men. While local women were only trumped by Italians in overall minutes spent, they appear to have less to complain about in the inequity stakes compared to their Japanese and Korean sisters.

Number of minutes per day spent on domestic work

Australia 172 minutes 311 minutes 1.8
Austria 135 minutes 269 minutes  2.0
Finland 154 minutes 245 minutes 1.6
France 136 minutes 258 minutes 1.9
Germany 164 minutes 269 minutes 1.6
Italy 103 minutes 326 minutes  3.2
Japan 59 minutes  269 minutes  4.5
Korea 45 minutes  227 minutes 5.0
UK 150 minutes  273 minutes  1.8
US 154 minutes  258 minutes  1.7

 When you add children to the mix, Morgan says many working women, who are overwhelmed by the housework burden, are seeking support.

“Unfortunately I do think women who are mums and working are carrying more of a sense of having to do it all,” she says.

“They feel they need to be professional and efficient in their job during the day in paid work and then they kick in to also need to do that at home. There is a heck of a lot of stress on women. There is no question about that.”

In the 2011 paper Persistent work-family strain among Australian mothers the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) found although the adverse impact of work on family life is more widespread, the home environment could also influence work performance and enjoyment.

Examples of factors that increased home-to-work spillover included the care needs of young children and elderly relatives; housework and its distribution within families; and the perceived quality of each parent’s role, both as a spouse and as a parent.

“Australian mothers in recent decades have greatly increased their participation in the labour market,” said author Ibolya Losoncz in the paper published in the AIFS’ journal Family Matters.

“Fathers, however, have not increased their participation in unpaid household work to a matching degree. But, without equal sharing of the dual roles of earner and carer between mothers and fathers, mothers will inevitably feel the work-family tension more keenly.”

The paper concluded that the results suggest existing approaches, such as part-time schedules, flexible working hours, and attempts to reconfigure the balance of paid and unpaid working hours within couples, needed to be complemented with new initiatives “supported by society as a whole”.

Morgan is encouraged by an increasing number of young couples seeking help before their problems become too entrenched.

She strongly encourages people, even before they cohabit, to talk openly about their expectations and to keep the conversation going.

“If one partner sits in resentment and they’re brooding about it and it becomes one of those issues that is not discussed, it can explode into something much more than it needs to be,” Morgan says.

“Unhappiness about the division of housework can be indicative of a sense of unfairness that one or the other has about their needs being met in the relationship.”

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