These Chores Don’t Count? On Men’s Hidden “Second Shift”

Updated 3/25/13

The stereotype: “Housework is the only activity at which men are allowed to be consistently inept because they are thought to be so competent at everything else” – Letty Cottin Pogrebin

The reality: “The fellow who owns his own home is always coming out of a hardware store” -Kin Hubbard

Jobs using these do not get counted in major studies of housework (photo used under Creative Commons agreement)

For decades, The Bureau of Labor Statistics has conducted the Americans Time Use Survey (ATUS) and the University of Michigan has conducted the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). Through surveys and time use diaries, these studies track employment patterns, as well as how Americans divide their time among their daily work and non-work tasks.

No surprise- these projects have consistently found that men spend more time at work than women, and women spend more time on housework than men. These gaps, which were once huge, have significantly narrowed over the decades, until stabilizing in about the late 1990s.

Two specific findings illustrate where we are today. First, the 2011 ATUS found that full-time employed men average 3.5 more working hours a week than full-time employed women. Second, the 2005 PSID found that, among dual-earner couples, women spend about 4.5 more hours per week on household chores than men. This household work gap is often referred to as women’s “Second Shift” (i.e., both men and women work their first shifts at work, but women also work a second shift of housework), based on the title of Dr. Arlie Hochschield’s excellent study on this issue.

So far, there’s nothing controversial here, and I bet these numbers ring true for many of us, even those who do a significant amount of household chores. The fact is women do somewhat more around the house than we do.

But look at those numbers again. Taking both paid work and household work together, that’s only a one hour difference per week. Despite the media’s constant harping on “chore wars” (see this article or this blog post for typical superficial “journalism” on this subject), this doesn’t seem to me like the demise of feminism and equal opportunity that it is often made out to be.

And, in my opinion, the one hour difference per week doesn’t even tell the whole story.

According to the PSID’s own report:

Housework was defined as “core chores,” or routine housework that people generally do not enjoy doing such as washing dishes, laundry, vacuuming floors and dusting… Routine housework, like cooking dinner or making beds, was captured…. Other activities such as home repairs, mowing the lawn, and shoveling snow were not in the study. Items such as gardening are usually viewed as more enjoyable; the focus here is on core housework. (italics are mine).

All I can say to that is Wha-wha-whaaaaaat!!!??? Shoveling snow is enjoyable and thus should not count as a chore? Mowing the lawn in August is enjoyable? Fixing a clogged toilet is enjoyable? Grouting? Painting a room? Hauling air conditioners up the stairs? Doing the taxes? Changing the car’s oil? Crawling through the musty crawl space to repair a leaky pipe?

You get my drift.

While I admit some “men’s chores” are pretty enjoyable (after all, there is satisfaction in repairing something in the house yourself instead of calling a repairman), I think making such a large distinction between “unenjoyable routine housework” and “enjoyable chores” is, well, just plain wrong.  Some people get loads of satisfaction from cooking or from maintaining a clean house, too. But enjoyability is not the main issue.

The big problem is that “definitive” studies like PSID emphasize tasks that are typically performed more by women as “household chores”, while either minimizing or excluding more typical men’s chores. I get that “our” chores are not quite as routine or everyday and therefore harder to measure, but most of us working dads are also on-call handymen (I love my wife and she is an awesome partner who does more than her fair share, but she’s not the one bailing water out of the basement after a flood).

And, more importantly, the flaws in the data exaggerate the housework gap, failing to recognize our contributions. As a result, the men’s “second shift” gets short shrift.

You know what they say about research and data- “Garbage in, garbage out” (o yeah, they don’t count that chore either…)


How do you feel about the division of labor and household chores? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

This article was republished at the Good Men Project online men’s magazine, generating over 90 comments.  Follow this link to the article.

27 thoughts on “These Chores Don’t Count? On Men’s Hidden “Second Shift”

  1. Excellent article and food for thought. I’m actually moving out of the home I own in part because repairs it constantly needs are overwhelming me (I’m a single, working mom). This said, it is the repetitive, constant nature of the cooking and cleaning that really drag moods down. Plus, once a meal is made or a floor vacuumed, we know we’ll be doing the exact same thing again within hours or days rather than a year. The lack of a finished product to admire and actually relax about lies at the heart of the resentment. One possibility I heard on a radio show: list all chores; make three columns headed by Wife, Husband and Hire Out. This makes everyone’s contribution more concrete? Good luck to us all. 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment. I really like that “3 column” idea. The main point of my article is that many husbands/fathers do more than they are given credit for. It’s good to know that there are lots of supportive women like you engaged in these ideas.

      “Treat the person who works for you the same way you treat the person you work for” _______________________________________________

      Scott J. Behson, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Management Silberman College of Business Fairleigh Dickinson University 1000 River Rd. (H-DH2-06) Teaneck, NJ 07666

      Office phone: 201.692.7233 Department phone: 201.692.7213 Email:

  2. Dear Scott:

    Thanks for your article. I am so excited to see this discussion on my Cornell feed! I’ve been an organizational development consultant (to many of the Fortune 100) for nearly two decades focused on diversity and creating supportive work cultures. Earlier this year I published a book ‘The Libra Solution: Shedding Excess and Redefining Success at Work and at Home’ ( on work-life mangement for dual career couples. I talk in the book about how things have changed so dramatically for men in recent decades and that many of their challenges are so little understood. I profile a partnership approach to work and family mangement which prioritizes both men and women creating space in their lives for whatever it is that energizes them. (For my husband it’s a monthly poker group, fantasy football (and Sunday games) with my teenage son, and an annual get together with 3 college friends.)

    I’m excited to look at the fathers work and family website. I blog for The Good Men Project which has some great articles on this topic. I’d love to have further conversation about work-life issues for Cornell moms and dads.

    Lisa D’Annolfo Levey

    • Hi Lisa- Thank you!!! I also write for GMP. You should check out several of my other articles- as they relate to a lot of what you write about in your comment. We should definitely be in touch on how we can collaborate going forward. Your work/book/etc. sound great.

    • Hi Zach-

      Thanks! I have a pretty specific subject area, but am happy you find it valuable. I’m always looking for guest material if it related to work-family issues.


      “Treat the person who works for you the same way you treat the person you work for” _______________________________________________

      Scott J. Behson, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Management; Acting Department Chair Silberman College of Business Fairleigh Dickinson University 1000 River Rd. (H-DH2-06) Teaneck, NJ 07666

      Office phone: 201.692.7233 Department phone: 201.692.7213 Email:

      • Great post! It also easily flows into Science and clitcifisasaon! Sorting socks is a great Math task that I love to hand off to my kids, especially since it’s one chore I happen to despise.

  3. I’ve used the ATUS to study family time use before, so when a colleague pointed out your post I was surprised. The ATUS generally codes similar activities together and is pretty thorough. When I checked the ATUS Coding Rules (part of the ATUS codebook), I found that home repair, vehicle repair, etc. was coded as a household chore.

    Here is the 2003 ATUS Coding Rules document’s defintion of “Household Activities”:

    “Category definition: Household activities are those done by the respondent to
    maintain his or her household, and include housework, cooking, yard care, pet
    care, vehicle maintenance and repair, and home maintenance, repair,
    decoration, and renovation. Household management and organizational
    activities—such as filling out paperwork, balancing a checkbook, or planning a
    part—are also included in this category. Obtaining or purchasing household
    services (09 Household Services) is not included in this category.”

    Using the more specific ATUS codes, rather than the general category codes, an individual researcher could purposefully only include the cleaning, cooking, laundry, etc. activities as a measure of household chores. But to say that the ATUS doesn’t even measure home repair, for example, is not correct. Further, the ATUS does code them as a type of household chore. If a researcher is using the full category to measure household chores, they will pick up a wide variety of chores including home repair, vehicle maintenance, etc.

    • I appreciate your input, and would be happy to correct my information, if indeed I am incorrect.

      However, from the information I found here the only categories available for respondents to use when filling out the time use diary are:
      1. Sleeping
      2. Grooming (self)
      3. Watching TV
      4. Working at main job
      5. Working at other job
      6. Preparing meals or snacks
      7. Eating and drinking
      8. Cleaning kitchen
      9. Laundry
      10. Grocery shopping
      11. Attending religious service
      12. Paying household bills
      30. Don‘t know/ Can‘t remember

      The chores listed here do not contain home/car/lawn etc. I also went through two years of ATUS data dictionaries and found none of the particular categories you cite.

      Are you saying that there are other codes to be used or other instructions not included in the public documents? and that this information changes the facts in this article? if so, I am happy to edit so as not to put false information out there.

      • The ATUS data files and the documentation that accompany them are farly complicated. For example in the ATUS 2011 data set, there are at least 6 data files that I would use for a study with a 4 additional optional data files. The documentation is similarly complex. You’d want to look at 5 – 6 .pdf documents to know how to put the files together and use them. Although it is true that what you show from the questionnaire pdf are those 12 codes (and the 13th non-response code), I believe that is just an example. On number 8, for example, why would cleaning the kitchen be the only type of household cleaning that counts? Further, the participants in the ATUS do not code their own activities. Rather, participants tell the interviewers what they were doing, the interviewers record that verbatim, then they recode it using thier own coding lexicon. Everything that participants report doing is recorded and coded. That’s the value of a time diary.

        If you go to the code lexiconn ( you can how the activities are coded. On page 2, for example, you’ll see all of the codes that pertain to the cateogry “Household Activities.” The codes have a general main section code (household activities is “2”) a more specific second tier code, and then a very specific third-tier code. Thus, for example, a code of 02.01.01 pertains to “interior cleaning” while code 02.01.02 pertains to laundry. Code 02.04.02 refers to exterior repair and code 02.05.01 refers to lawn, garden, and housework care. A code of 02.07.01 would indicate that someone is reparing a vehicle and the codes in 02.03 refer to different types of interior home repair. So if a particpant says that they were mowing the lawn from10 – 11on a Saturday morning, the ATUS interviewer would record “mowing the lawn”. Later the ATUS personnel would give that actvity a code of 02.05.01.

        As a researcher if I were interested in all types of household work done by the participants I would pull all of the activities participants reported doing in main category 02 and disregard the second and third tier codes. Then I could compare mens’ vs. women’s housework and I would be including all types of housework activities – including the stereotypically masculine and feminine chores. If I were interested in just certain types, then I would restrict which participant time sections I would add in the data using the second and possibly third tier-codes. For example, if I were interested in comparing men and women on stereotypically masculine chores then I would focus on .categories 02.03 (interior repair), 02.04 (exterior repair), 02.05 (lawn and garden), and 02.07 (vehicle maintenance). Of course, this would be imperfect becuase interior repair also includes interior decoration and lawn and garden also includes “houseplant care”. But it would be farily good measure.

        In summary the ATUS does measure all types of househwork and these data are available for researchers. As I said, I don’t know about the time-use data in the PSID. It might be restricted. But the ATUS does not ignore stereotypcially masculine chores. Participants are free to report what they do, the ATUS codes it accordingly, and researchers are able to use it.

        • Thank you very much for the clarification.

          The PSID explicitly states what is and what is not included- and I include that quote in the article. However, I stand corrected on the ATUS data, and will make a prominent note in the article.

          “Treat the person who works for you the same way you treat the person you work for” _______________________________________________

          Scott J. Behson, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Management; Acting Department Chair Silberman College of Business Fairleigh Dickinson University 1000 River Rd. (H-DH2-06) Teaneck, NJ 07666

          Office phone: 201.692.7233 Department phone: 201.692.7213 Email:

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