Chores down, child care up

There is evidence that technology has already made household chores much less time-consuming. Parents together now spend 27.6 hours a week on chores, down from 36.3 in 1965, according to data from the American Time Use Survey and Pew Research Center. Some of their new free time is being spent on their children. They spend 20.8 hours a week on child care, up from 12.7 in 1965.

That is from Claire Cain Miller, most of the piece is about the economies of paying people to ship your goods for you.


My wife reports that I perform 0 hours of household chores,

That I am a lucky outlier,

And, in fact, she maintains, that I

Negatively contribute by getting in her way, thereby interfering with her greater efficiency.

I told her I would repay this deficit, later but since I interfere with her tasks, she ought to pay be to stay out of her way, citing Coase.

+1 + another for working Coase in there.

Is that improved technology or the need to have two-incomes in a household?

Some of it's probably not technology, unless you include importing Central American laborers as a type of technology. I pay a guy to mow my lawn, I pay a guy to clean my gutters, I pay a girl to vacuum around the house, many days of the week I pay some guys to cook my dinner and do the dishes. Most of those guys were born south of the Rio Grande.

According to the census, the median for families with dual-earners today is more than twice what it was for single-earner families in 1965 ($88,000 v. $39,000). So any shift to two-incomes seems more like preference than need.

(Table F-12)

Try affording a house on a single income in a predominantly two-income neighborhood. That $39,000 doesn't go very far.

If the median for dual-income families today is $88,000, then the top earner in those families is probably earning somewhere around $50,000. This is enough to afford a house in an average U.S. market.

"in a predominantly two-income neighborhood"

that's your problem.

I'm guessing you want two things out of that neighborhood -- 1. safety (especially if you have kids) and 2. good schohoolols (if you have or plan to have kids).

Both can be illusions, so if you work hard you may be able to find a different neighborhood that gets you exactly what you want without the income.

If I had it to do again and insisted on living in an urban or suburban area, I'd live in an apartment complex. Have one parent stay "home" and school the kids and bring them hiking/ park, etc. twice a week, down to the apartment pool every day, out to outings with friends twice a week. That will get you what you are looking for with a safe neighborhood and a good school more securely than moving into that double income neighborhood.

There are other creative workarounds.

I resent having to workaround, frankly, but I'm getting over it, life's too short. I've known people who put their small kids in stupid child care situations in order to secure a job so they can have enough income to stay in the neighborhood with good schools for the kid later. Really, it's easy to get into lockstep thinking and find yourself three miles down the road to a place you never really wanted to be.

Sorry, I meant that to be "that's your problem" with the stress on the "that's", not on the "your"! ;)

The two incomes needed to live meme is not compelling. I was born in 1965. Lives were clearly more spartan then. My family with a single earning parent made maybe 15% more than $39,000 (about $5,200 then). We had one car. No air conditioning, only one electric fan, no basement freezer, one black and white t.v. (no cable),, a c. 1925 kitchen (not cool then, just old), a small lawnboy push mower to mow the lawn, no garbage or recycling pick up (we burned our garbage out back and took big things to the dump --a giant, gross pain), ate out very rarely, little kid overalls sewed out of the scraps of dresses and jumpers that my mother sewed for herself, a 2-party telephone line, etc. I could live that lifestyle now on $60,000 with one hand tied behind my back.

But would you be considered social outcasts? I think yes; anyone who doesn't have all those things you listed would be considered too weird to spend time with. Better start a commune.


Burning garbage out back wouldn't fly today in most places. Homemade clothes might be looked down upon (but you can get decent clothing very cheaply at thrift stores and Walmart). Otherwise, I don't see what people would object to.

Could you stay employed in the job you have now if you switched to that?

I love what you say, we have a hybrid version of it in our household, but it is very time consuming, there's a big learning curve for returning to that way of living, and it's very hard for one spouse to hold a professional job with that going on -- when the wife shows up to drop off lunch in her home made outfit, the promotion gets back burnered.

You can buy decent clothes at consignment stores & yards sales for cheaper than the fabric to sew them. So that's not really a problem.

Sure, but I can tell you for sure that using Goodwill for your clothing will show. If my husband (or if I) were a professional in a competitive field (say an attorney or an engineer or an executive or salesman) I wouldn't take the chance. I wear 100% Goodwill and gifts, by the way -- I think Goodwill is great. But there are costs that come as you move up the socio-economic ladder. I have the luxury of dressing the way a doctor or doctor's wife in a large practice does not.

Consignment shops are usually not worth the extra cost, by the way, and you can't buy your wardrobe from yard sales unless you are willing to spend a really, really lot of time at yard sales. Poor people buy GW or Salvation Army, central and cheap

Yes, fabric is stupid expensive. What's up with that? You can buy new clothes cheaper. Has it just become a niche thing, sewing?

27 hours a week on chores? that's almost 4 hours a day on household chores, or say, 2 hours per adult person. is that not a wee bit high?

(millennial slob)

no, i'm 49. i live in a ~1000 square foot apt with wife and 1 kid. i know she spends more time cleaning and cooking than i do but give a break, 4 hours?

i'd like to know the specific definition of chores beyond cleaning, cooking, laundry, etc. back in 1965 how many women considered facets of child care a "chore" rather than "care"

i'm guessing we spend much less time cooking than before. home cooked from scratch meals to microwave ready/frozen dinners/eating out. cooking a meal from scratch and then doing the dishes is laborious. now I can just eat out of the plastic tray with a plastic fork and throw them both away. obviously this is a quality sacrifice

if we cook less, there is significantly less cleaning to do. i'm not sure if cleaning materials are much better than they were back in the 60s, other than magic erasers which are a godsend. expectations are probably lower. carpet is probably easier to clean. not sure if carpet is as common as it was, but i'm confident SHAG carpeting isn't. less smoking indoors. another aspect is that often times it is "cheaper" to replace something than to clean or maintain it.

laundry probably takes less time because there are lower standards of presentation. for example, i'm guessing fewer people are expected to iron their clothes regularly. otoh machines use less water and energy, but time is often sacrificed in doing so.

for an apartment dweller (sigh, i miss living in an apartment sometimes) it is easy to forget about LAWN CARE which, if you want a nice lawn, is ludicrously time consuming. my uncle mows 3 times a week which is insane but not uncommon for a LAWN MASTER. then there's cleaning gutters, sidewalks, raking, etc etc
I'm not sure if that counts as "household chores"

It's some appliances too. Pickling and jam cooking is obsolete due to freezers, dishwashing is another obvious candidate.


+1 have freezing made pickling and jam cooking obsolete?

When is the last time you salted your meat for a transatlantic voyage?

Let's say optional rather than obsolete.

And only optional until the zombies come, of course.

Growing up, my grandmother routinely spent 6 hours a day in the kitchen between the three meals.

And yes she spent a lot of time canning. I'd agree that the deep freeze made that obsolete. By the 1990's my grandmother was no longer canning beans, but instead, rinsing them, snapping off the ends, and sealing them into a freezer bag.

i understand beans are one of the more titchy things to can. If you get it right, which you usually will, all's good. But wrong can be very toxic, no?

My in-laws (and a few times myself, but I stink at it) can tomatoes (which don't freeze well), salsa, and other fruit (peaches, etc.). They also make pickles and can beets. I note now that you mention it that many of these are things you usually find in stores canned, not frozen.

I can easily spend 4 hours making and cleaning up after meals, since we eat three meals a day at home. Does that really count as housework, though? Shouldn't it at least be half housework and half child care?

I also balked at the idea of 4 hours of housework a day, but if you're going to count dinner and stuff like that it seems fine or low.

I don't get the 2 hours a day on child care, though, unless your definition of childcare is really limited. I mean, even if someone is at work all day doesn't getting the kids showered, fed, and toothbrushed count as child care? How about that you're "on call" all night long when you are the adult in the house responsible for the kids? If I were a nurse working in a facility and I were required to be available to the patients if they woke, wouldn't that count in my hours?

It's not hard to keep a 1000 square food apartment clean. Try living in a 3000 sq ft house with an acre of lawn!!!

Oh and I didn't mention the trees. The leaves are coming, the leaves are coming!!!....then the snow.... :(

My lawn will be covered with oak leaves but there are no oaks on my property. Why is it that people are responsible for the defecations of their dachshunds but not the dead leaves of their oak trees? If I go over and dump my maple leaves on their lawn, I'll be in trouble. But if they LET their oaks molt over mine it's OK. It just ain't right.

"It’s not hard to keep a 1000 square food apartment clean. Try living in a 3000 sq ft house with an acre of lawn!!! "

Even a 1,000 square foot house is substantially more upkeep than an apartment. You work for that equity.

Absolutely. See for the U.S. pop at large (2.19 hours per day for women and 1.34 for men), which is consistent with the Pew study (parents with kids), which you can find if you follow the link in the NYT article.

For the families I know with kids, it's insane - just driving the little blighters around to their various activities is several hours a day.

Just by the way. One of the two most important reasons behind the decline of fertility rates in developed countries:

I find it amusing. Married couples had 3 or 4 children on average in 1965, vs. the 2 children which are the norm today. Cut the number of youngsters by 40% and increase the time spent by 60%. My aunt and my mother (b. 1925 and 1930 respectively) had occasion to offer that they thought younger generations had over-egged the child-care pudding (with occasional references to their own children). Cannot say all those man-hours are getting people better results.

Sometimes having more kids can reduce the burden on the parents. Siblings can play with each other, only children need to be entertained.

I have 6 siblings, and my mother made it clear early on that she was not the maid, and my father was not the porter. This was the late 50s to the mid-70s.

Over time, all of us were taught and expected to make our own beds, clean our rooms, clean our bathrooms, clean the common areas in our part of the house, do our laundry, sew and iron our clothes, set the table and wash the dishes and help with cooking. Oh, and mow the lawn, shovel the walks, and take the trash out. All 7 of us could do this by the time were 8 or 9.

And do our homework and get ourselves ready for school.

And as I recall, this was normal for our friends, too. Everyone had chores. No big deal.

(millennial reading this sympathizes with you and your siblings for having to endure such outrageous child abuse during your formative years)

So nobody was assigned to video games?


As the owner of a fairly large brood, I strongly agree. We live in a leafy east-coast suburb, as liberal as it comes, and I'm constantly asked "how do you do it?" by people overwhelmed by one kid. The answer is partially "I am not as afraid as you are" and partially "there are many economies of scale and larger groups of kids entertain and take care of each other." There's nothing more agonizing for a child than having to spend significant time with adults without other kids around, and that manifests behaviorally.

Last sentence applies in a ton of places in our current culture.

As for "I'm not as afraid as you are", that's such a big deal. Some folks I know with large families are simply less risk averse naturally -- it shows in other areas of their lives. Others simply make a choice to have courage (a forgotten virtue). But fear if the big limiter.

agree, we may be spending more time but it seems time rather poorly spent

It seems like a lot of the increased child are time is still spent shipping goods.

Some of my more successful friends have little time for kids, but they end up doing a better job with the time they have. Seems that way.

As compared to what?

I know when I'm super busy with other things, the lesser time I spend with my kids isn't higher but lower quality.

I think what you might be seeing with "successful" friends is that the time they spend with their kids they spend more often publicly. For example, watching the kid in the school play or on the soccer field, that sort of thing. You, as an outside observer, never saw your less successful friends spend their "more" kid time on things like talking at dinner or playing a card game or listening to a teen cry about her day at bed time. You won't see your more successful friends do any of that, either. That's all hidden from you.

My mother got a dryer around 1965, a dishwasher around 1968, and a microwave in 1980.

Less macro-scale improvements such as Teflon pans and better detergents made her workload easier, too.

'better detergents'?

did your father make her make her own?


It's easy to make your own -- Fels Naptha, washing soda, Borax.

But it's messy and takes up a lot of space. And some time. And no, it doesn't clean as well, although it works fine.

All that extra time parents spend hovering over their children is clearly detrimental to the children, and the rest of us grown-ups! Less is more.

36.3 hours on chores which included supervising or working with kids doing chores for at least half that time: washing dishes and cleaning up after dinner, preparing dinner with the kids setting the table and even helping prepare food or at least watching, cleaning the house by having kids run the vacuum while picking up and dusting, and doing laundry by having the kids get the dirty clothes from all over, then helping sort, wash, carry outside to hang on the line, then after dry, helping sort, fold, and put back in the kids wardrobe.

After having dinner at home, and then supervising homework if not already done while you were preparing dinner, the only time child care was needed (for 12.7 hours) was when going to church business meeting or being a scout leader or going out to dinner with friends.

Now no dinner prep, cooking, or dinner together, no hanging clothes out to dry, etc cuts down on the chores that keep your kids busy and keep you at home, 9 hours less, means you are going out and need your kids watched over 8 hours more.

Can this be explained, at least in part, by the far that people cook less at home and eat much more food
prepared outside?

Some ( possible) confounds:

1) fewer kids
2) maids
3) People give less of a shit (more bastards)
4) Less social pressure to lie about how much you care
5 ) demographic change

As some people point out above, more kids might actually be easier.

At least until you need to pay for college.

It seems like those types of "chores-doing" businesses require a lot of labor time. Not sure well they'll do outside of a couple city environments that have the annoying combination of low unemployment but high living expenses (meaning lots of people looking for more work to do on the side).

What is the child care thing, exactly? Are people now spending more hours per week changing diapers than they once did? Are they feeding the kids more frequently? How much care does a child require? Would one comb their hair more often and bathe them twice a day? In 1915 was there just 1.0 hours per week spent in child care. Once again, the numbers, however derived, are just so much BS. They don't tell us how much care, or even what the care was, for any particular child and what effect that care might have had, if any. It's a waste of valuable pixels even discussing it.

I bet they involve monitoring the child or accompanying the child in situations which either involved leaving the child alone in the past (playing in the yard or park) or which didn't exist or were much less common in the past (three days of soccer practice a week for 8 year-olds, or transport to and from daycare).

You could make that bet but how would you collect? If you're right, sitting on a park bench watching the kid play on the swings with other kids is "child care"? Driving the kid back and forth to supervised soccer practice is "child care"? Perhaps to guilt-ridden post-moderns that would qualify as child care, much as the Victorian upper class probably felt that they were doing the right thing by sending their offspring to schools like Miss Pinkerton's instead of letting them wander the London streets picking pockets for Fagan. Those were, after all, the only two choices.

I didn't say it was equal in difficulty, I said I bet it's what people are counting.

And easy or not, necessary or not, it does exclude other uses for the time.

Given how much economic activity takes place outside the money compensated market economy, and the trade offs between the money compensated market economy and the domestic sector, it is interesting that statistics like these aren't part of the standard set of economic indicators.

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