Sixty percent of women are the primary breadwinner, but still doing most of the housework

Most people who identify as women have to work in this day and age–that’s just the reality of the time we live in (sorry “get back in the kitchen” advocates). But while the day-to-day lives of women have changed substantially, gendered expectations around housework have not. According to a study released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, despite significant shifts in women’s participation in the workforce, the amount of work they do in the house has only shifted marginally.

Some of the findings include:

Household Activities in 2011

–On an average day, 83 percent of women and 65 percent of men spent some
time doing household activities such as housework, cooking, lawn care, or
financial and other household management.

–On the days that they did household activities, women spent an
average of 2.6 hours on such activities, while men spent 2.1 hours.

–On an average day, 19 percent of men did housework–such as cleaning
or doing laundry–compared with 48 percent of women. Forty percent of
men did food preparation or cleanup, compared with 66 percent of women.

What causes this disparity? Do women just like cleaner houses? Maybe because hubby’s just used to women cleaning up things when they are messy? Maybe because women get sick of asking and just do it? There are so many ways gendered expectations are normalized in day-to-day living and I’d imagine many women just do the work rather than living in filth or constantly fighting about who should do the dishes. 

When people talk about equality in their relationships–they often give a lot of that credit to men doing more housework–or how the equality in their relationship is due to splitting up household tasks. Turns out, that’s not as much the case–perhaps dudes are doing more housework than they were in the past, but not as much as the lady is expected to do. When people wonder why feminists critique institutions like heteronormativity, it’s explicitly because of the unspoken gender expectations that are codified in behavior that are so difficult to escape because they are so much deeper than a conscious choice.

via Think Progress.

NOTE: Feministing friend Andrew Golis just pointed out that 60%of american women aren’t the primary breadwinner, but instead primary and co-breadwinner–which given wage gap means that most aren’t the primary breadwinner.

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  • Brüno

    Does this 60% figure include single households? Or only married women or at least women who cohabit?

    • unequivocal

      It looks like the original article has been updated to note this. From the Think Progress article:

      “59.4 percent of working-age women are currently in the labor force. Sixty percent of women are the primary or co-bread winner for their household. ”

      As far as I can tell being the “primary or co-bread winner” for a household just means that a person is contributing financially to the household. Consequently, the entire 59.4% of women who are in the labor force can all be characterized as “primary or co-bread winners,” whether they are bringing in 100% of the household income or 1% of the household income.

      According to Bureau of Labor Statistics ( in 2011 63% of non-institutionalized women were in the civilian workforce compared to 78% of men. Note, however, that this says nothing about level of income; it just states that those are the percentages employed.

      Stating that “Sixty percent of women are the primary breadwinner, but still doing most of the housework” implies that 6 out of every 10 women are both the primary breadwinners and the primary parties responsible for domestic work, but the actual statistics in the linked article show nothing of the sort, and don’t indicate any linkage between primary breadwinner and domestic labor (in fact, they don’t actually talk about “primary breadwinners” at all, just employed parties).

      A more accurate description of these statistics would be:

      About 78% of men bring money into the household, while about 63% of women do the same. 83% of women do some sort of domestic labor for the household, while about 65% of men do the same. Of those people who do domestic labor, women average 2.6 hours a day, while men average 2.1 hours a day.

      Those numbers are troubling, but they are a far cry from the level of disparity described in the title.

  • natasha

    Not surprised. Things have improved somewhat, but not enough. I’ve been told over and over throughout my young life that if I ever want to get married, I will have to cook and clean, or I will be forever single or divorced because I wouldn’t be a good wife. I was never told to learn to cook and clean so I would be a responsible adult who looks after myself, it was always gendered and about pleasing a future husband.