Women and men are now working equal amounts of time as each other, but there are still significant differences in what types of work they are doing in that time. Generally, women are spending more time on unpaid work in the home and men are spending more time on paid work in the market. A new book “All Joy and No Fun: the Paradox of Modern Parenthood” by Jennifer Senior examines not only how women and men spend time differently between home work and labor market work, but how their work in the home differs and also how they may perceive that time differently.
An excerpt of the book was published in the Wall Street Journal on “Why mom’s time is different from dad’s time.” Senior writes about her use of data from the American Time Use Survey. Not only do men and women arrange their hours working between paid and unpaid work differently, but their unpaid work can be of a very different nature from each other, leading to quite different perceptions of how each in a partnership sees the other’s work, and maybe also the balance of power in the household for the decisions over type of house or parenting work and time spent, as I’ll argue. For example, women are significantly more likely to report disrupted sleep for childcare than men are. This means that moms are more likely to tend to crying babies and children at night than dads are. And if anything can make a person feel cranky about the weight their partner pulls in their relationship, not getting enough sleep can make a person very resentful.
I’ve written here on Lady Economist in the past about how time use in particular activities, like childcare or food coop shifts, can affect capacity for other activities. This would be even more so if the different activities that men and women take on can affect their ability to focus and manage stress, as well as influence their mental exhaustion. Senior argues this point. She finds that leisure time helps dads relax more than it does for mothers. So the potential for lower capacity for other activities for moms is exacerbated. The pressure for women to take on certain duties in the home may influence how much they can lean in at their jobs and in the labor market.
Suzanne Lucas argues on CBS News that it’s only logical for women to do more work in the home if they are working fewer hours in the market. She writes, “women are still cranky about this because they believe men don’t do their share of the household tasks. She makes no mention of the idea that women should pick up more paid hours to compensate, or to allow their husbands to work less. Nope, it’s just about hubby working more so that the wife feels better… How about instead, women say, ‘Gee, honey look at this! We’re both working equally hard!’?” Not only does Lucas reinforce stereotypes of women being irrational, she also ignores the data that shows this hasn’t been how it’s worked since women began entering the labor force in large numbers across all socioeconomic classes. While women’s hours of paid work have increased since the 60s, men have not compensated for this with an equal increase in unpaid work. These charts show that while women have had great increases in their paid labor time and decreases in their unpaid labor time, men have only compensated for this with slight reductions in their paid labor and smaller increases in unpaid labor in the home.
Gary Becker was on to something when he brought economic theory into the household, since one’s home life is often the starting point for one’s economic life. But Becker’s joint consumption model, which relies on an altruistic head of household (usually the man and dad) does not describe what Senior has found in her book, that there can be conflict between partners and how perceptions of work time use can affect well-being. Dad may not be as altruistic as Becker assumes.
Current Chief Economist of the World Bank Kaushik Basu’s formalized a bargaining model with differences in power between partners in his paper “Gender and Say: A Model of Household Behavior with Endogenously Determined Balanced of Power.” Endogenous refers to the way in which power is created and then reinforced within the household by, say, one partner’s exacerbated mental and physical exhaustion because of the type of household duties that partner takes on compared to the other partner.
In Basu’s approach, power is distributed between household members by the individual utility maximization function. If one partner has greater earning power, then that partner will have a better utility maximization position from the start. So each partner comes to the household work allocation decision from a starting point that may be based on work outside the home, with dad’s usually having greater time spent working outside the home, giving them a certain amount of pre-determined power when bargaining over work inside the home. The outcome of the allocation of the type and time spent on certain household duties is determined over time through feedback into the process, which endogenously affects the balance of power. If the outcome favors one partner’s position, then that partner’s power will be even more strengthened relative the other partner through subsequent rounds of bargaining. This results in women experiencing more stress in the home than men because of the type of work they do and perceptions of time use, perhaps resulting from endogenously determined power allocations.
I see this playing out in parenting with women getting up more in the middle of the night to care for children because they are more likely to have fewer work demands the following day, since in general women work fewer hours for paid work compared to men. Then this reinforces a man’s power in further bargaining over other household duties, like getting the children ready for school the next day. So while, yes, men and women are spending equal amounts of time working overall and men are picking up some more work in the home, the disparate positions of power when entering into bargaining over work in the home is reinforced through a process in which men have a greater ability to choose a more preferable allocation of the type and time spent on work in the home.
However it isn’t all dismal economic theory. One of the implications of this model is that empowerment and balance of power in the household is not an instantaneous event, but changes overtime in response to power from within the household and from outside economic factors. This means that since it is not a given relationship, household allocation decisions can be modified overtime, compared to the Becker approach which assumes a stationary endowment and allocation of household resources. This implies that there can be policies and changing economic conditions that would affect household balance of power and make the balance of power and type of activities done in the household a little more equal, making mom a little less cranky.