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Sept. 28, 2005

Doing housework hurts wages of young and middle-aged women

housework ANN ARBOR, Mich.—While prior research has shown that housework has an adverse effect on wages, a new University of Michigan study finds that only young and middle-aged women are affected.

"Despite a slight reallocation of housework activities from wives to husbands in recent years, most of the housework as well as the care of children within the home are still primarily the responsibility of the woman," said U-M economist Paula Malone. "Wives are still primarily doing 'women's work,' such as meals, dishes, cleaning, shopping and laundry, whereas men are engaged in the traditional male tasks, such as yard work, home maintenance and auto repair."

Malone and colleague Kristen Keith of the University of Toledo say that, compared with women over 50, young women do about two fewer hours of housework per week, are less likely to perform more than 10 hours of weekly housework and do less housework relative to men their same age (young women spend more than twice as much time on housework per week than do young men, but older women spend three times as many hours on housework than do older men).

However, the number of hours spent on housework does not affect the wages of women over 50 or men of any age, for that matter. Only the income of young women (ages 20-34) and middle-aged women (ages 35-49) is negatively affected by the amount of housework they do.

In a study published earlier this year in the journal Contemporary Economic Policy, Keith and Malone found that each additional hour of housework time reduces the wages of young and middle-aged women by 0.1 percent to 0.4 percent. While these wage losses may seem small, the researchers say they are statistically significant.

According to Keith and Malone, the true cause of the wage effect among young and middle-aged women is child care, in conjunction with regular household duties.

"If, as has been the case traditionally, young women are the primary caregivers for small children, then it is possible that the intensity of effort put forth by young women may be much greater than the effort expended by older women and men," Malone said. "Child caretakers cannot postpone care until the weekend or more convenient times. The impact of housework time on wages may, in fact, be the result of the division of chores of a specific type with timing that cannot by postponed within the household."

The study also found that for young workers, housework time is a key factor in explaining the male/female wage gap. On average, young men earn 30 percent more than young women, middle-aged men earn 46 percent more than middle-aged women and older men earn 54 percent more than older women.

The inclusion of housework time in the wage equation has a larger net effect on the explained portion of the wage gap for young workers than it does for older workers because current housework time does not appear to be as correlated with previous experience for young workers as it is for older workers, the researchers say.

For young workers, the average difference in men's and women's housework time is about twice as important as job tenure and market hours in explaining the male/female wage gap. For middle-aged workers, housework time is 60 percent as important as job tenure and education in explaining men's higher wages, and for older workers, it is 50 percent as important as education and 25 percent as important as tenure in explaining the wage difference.

"These results suggest that time spent on housework today may have a feedback effect that adversely affects women's labor market experience, which may in turn amplify the adverse effect on their future wages," Malone said. "However, attitudes toward the traditional distribution of housework within the family are changing, if numerous recent articles in the popular press are any indication.

"If improvements in women's market opportunities and changes in societal attitudes cause younger couples to share housework more equally than did older couples at the same age, potential gender differences in wage/housework effects should be mitigated."

For more information on Malone



Contact: Bernie DeGroat
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