Prepare yourself, ladies, for yet another news flash from the Department of the Bleedin’ Obvious. . . A research team at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine tracked both male and female full-time workers, particularly the number of hours they worked outside the home, the work they did in the home, and the responsibility they felt for doing the housework.(1) They then examined the links between housework and health issues such as raised blood pressure. High blood pressure has long been identified as a risk factor in heart disease, so pay attention if you’re the person in your home who’s responsible for most of your housework.
The subjects in this specific study had their blood pressure checked over time and were then given a blood pressure monitor to wear both at home and at work. They were asked to provide information on the number of hours they spent on seven specific areas of work around the house:
- caring for children
- caring for pets
- caring for the ill/elderly
- household chores (such as cleaning and cooking)
- house/car repairs or maintenance
- yard/garden work
The results suggested that those who felt they had to accept most of the responsibility for doing these tasks had the highest risk of having high blood pressure.
This was evidently true regardless of how many hours they actually spent doing the tasks, which suggests that the raised blood pressure was probably mostly due to stress over the feeling of responsibility rather than from doing the jobs themselves.
CAROLYN’S NOTE: Dear University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine: I and many other women could have saved your research team a lot of time and effort by telling you all of this long before your study was even accepted for publication. My girlfriends and I, for example, have been conducting informal comparative studies for decades on why it is, for example, that our men tended to consider “sorting out the filing cabinet” to be an appropriate last-minute way to prepare the house for the dinner guests who were expected to ring the doorbell any minute now – until we had to ask them directly to undertake a different specific task that actually involved the evening’s plan. Observing and monitoring our male subjects do this definitely did have an effect on our blood pressure. Any man, by the way, who brags that he “helps out” with household chores is essentially declaring that such jobs are NOT his responsibility in the first place. He’s just helping out the wife, who is clearly the one responsible for doing it all.
That’s a lot of housework to be responsible for. A recent 50-year retrospective global study on who does the housework in 66 countries calculated that over the past half century across those countries, being a woman is linked with doing two extra hours of housework per day on average compared with the man of the house. Men, however, are beginning to pick up some of the slack. About 48% of Generation X (ages 35-54) and Baby Boomer men (55+) now say they’re the ones in their families responsible for household cleaning.(2)
Italy notably wins (or loses) the prize here. Back in 1980, Italian women on average did over four hours more housework per day than their hubbies did, but this out-of-whack average dropped to just over three hours more by 2008. No word from the researchers on what Italian women have been doing ever since with the luxury of that additional hour of glorious free time each day. . .
Data from a more recent national survey of North American adults conducted in March 2016 revealed that women and men are pretty close to being equally responsible in one specific area: household financial tasks such as paying household bills, financial planning, budgeting and remembering the rent or mortgage payments.
But women are still much more likely than their male partners to be responsible for the following household tasks:
• buying groceries: (65% of men, 90% of women)
• cooking/preparing meals: (48% of men, 85% of women)
• household cleaning (48% of men, 88% of women)
• planning social activities (26% of men, 57% of women)
Women are also performing more of the caregiving work in the family – 55% of partnered women say they are responsible for caring for loved ones, including children and elderly relatives, while only 39% of men say the same.(2)
Affluence was also a factor, with people in poorer families more adversely affected than those in wealthier ones. Could it be – just a wild guess here! – that wealthy families can not only afford to employ others outside the family to do the housework for them, but can even hire somebody to be responsible for sorting out all the hired help?
The researchers also said that the nature of housework, which can be “repetitive, boring, presenting little challenge and few intrinsic rewards” could also be a factor in the elevation of blood pressure.
Most research on division of household labour has been done on heterosexual couples, but a number of newer studies suggest that women in lesbian relationships seem to engage in a more equal distribution of household labour than heterosexual couples do. They are also less likely to choose household roles based on traditional stereotypes rather than practical factors like the quality of the task or personal ability, as Dr. Melanie Brewster at Columbia University recently suggested.(3)
In the University of Pittsburgh study, there was particular attention paid to determining who in the household felt more responsible for different chores which, again, seems to increase stress even more than simply doing the jobs themselves did.
When sociologist Dr. Lisa Wade was interviewed for a Money magazine piece on this subject, she pointed out that scholars have long documented women’s sense of household responsibility (even for those who worked full-time) which meant that women were doing the majority of what came to be called the “second shift”: the work that greets us when we come home from work. For example:
“Women do more of the learning and information processing (like researching pediatricians).
“They do more worrying (like wondering if their child is hitting his developmental milestones).
“And they do more organizing and delegating (like deciding when the mattress needs to be flipped or what to cook for dinner).
“Even when their male partners ‘helped out’ by doing their fair share of chores and errands, it was the women who noticed what needed to be done.”
Sociologist Dr. Susan Walzer also became interested in the invisible part of this work, the kind that occupied people’s minds. Her research found that, compared to their male partners, women do more of the intellectual, mental, and emotional work of household maintenance and child care. She wrote more about the under-appreciated reality of these important elements in her book, Thinking About the Baby.
So ladies, let these studies stand as cautionary tales for you – and now put away that vacuum before you hurt yourself.
1. R. Thurston et al, “Household Responsibilities, Income, and Ambulatory Blood Pressure Among Working Men and Women”, Psychosomatic Medicine, (February 2011); 73(2): 200–205.
2. Evrim Altintas et al. “Fifty years of change updated: Cross-national gender convergence in housework,” Demographic Research (24 Aug 2016).
3. Melanie Brewster, “Lesbian women and household labor division: A systematic review of scholarly research from 2000 to 2015,” Journal of Lesbian Studies, 1-23, (03 Sep 2016.
Q: Has being responsible for (not just doing!) the housework in your family impacted your own blood pressure?
- When you live with a serious diagnosis – and a bad marriage
- Who will take care of you at home if you become seriously ill?
- Women heart attack survivors know their place
- Women live longer – but not healthier – lives than men
- Is family stress hurting your heart?
- When the wrong family member is diagnosed with heart diseases