Why Do Women Make All the Household Decisions?
When a new work project took Diane Richards away from her family for three months, one thought got her through the separation: Maybe her husband would finally learn something about managing the household.
Before this time-out, Richards, a graphic designer from San Jose, California, was the spouse who schlepped three kids to and from school and activities, paid the bills, and handled the shopping, cooking, cleaning, and laundry -- all while holding down a full-time job. Her husband? "He fell into the category of 'semi-helpful,'" Richards says. "I was the one keeping all the balls in the air." By the time the three-month separation was over Richards sensed a change. "My absence forced my husband to be the logistics chief. He didn't always do things as I would -- he constantly ran out of bread, for instance -- but he did them. I hope it continues."
I can't help but envy Richards. Not for her three-month sabbatical (okay, a little), but because she's reaping the benefits of her husband's immersion in one of the most demanding and thankless jobs around -- domestic decider. Wives generally get appointed to this position when they take their wedding vows and the job only grows in size and complexity from there. Duties include everything from resolving the daily dilemma of what to have for dinner to keeping mental tabs on when the kids need new shoes, which plumber to call on a Saturday, and where the belongings of every single family member hide themselves at the end of the day. Oh, and the clincher -- acting as the social director for every occasion, including get-togethers with his family.
All this despite the fact that women hold nearly half the nation's jobs and indeed may soon outnumber men in the workforce, according to The New York Times.
Much has been made of the notion that men help out more around the house than they used to. And it's true that husbands today spend significantly more time on household chores than they did a generation ago: 13 hours a week in 2005 versus six hours a week in 1976, according to a University of Michigan study. But as every woman knows (and most men seem clueless about), there's a big difference between doing a chore and taking responsibility for it. Most of us have at least two to-do lists running in our head at all times -- one of our own and one for him. Did he pay this bill? Did he buy the new garbage cans? "If I always have to remind him to do the laundry, then it's still my job," says Judith Massengale, of Austin, Texas. "I don't even want a compartment in my brain that says 'laundry.'"
Getting men to fully own their piece of the domestic agenda may be marriage's last frontier. "Men have stepped up in so many ways, except in this area -- the executive function," says Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, A History. "It's probably the least-visible role in the household and the hardest to explain. It's one of the remaining barriers to full equality."