Let’s give housecleaning for gifts and save relationships

wives do more housework


People keep getting divorced. A lot. Rates have been around 40-50 percent for more than four decades.

Younger people aren’t getting married, marriage rates hitting historic lows.

Married women are pretty freaking unhappy. Researchers found: “The average married woman is less happy than the average married man, less happy than single women, less convinced that married people are happier than single people, and more likely to file for divorce. Once returned to single life, women’s happiness recovers, whereas men’s declines, and divorced women are less eager to remarry than divorced men.”

Why? One big reason:

Women keep doing far more housework than men — even as earnings increase

Big reason: Women do way more housekeeping than men — 72 percent more, in fact. Things get especially interesting when you learn that the more she earns than her husband, the more housekeeping a woman does, and the less her husband takes on.

Mothers keep dropping out of the workforce, which is bad for everyone, including kids and marriages, which suffer higher divorce rates than in marriages where both partners work. Reasons are often that life was just too bananas to have two parents working fulltime, as well as shuffle around the kids, and keep the house clean. We know that in marriages in which the wives earn more than their husbands suffer higher rates of divorce. Anecdotally, I hear lots of stories about the resentment about housework that simmers between even the most enlightened, progressive feminist spouses or romantic partners. Usually, the complaint comes from the woman: I come home from busting my ass all day, and then have to manage the kids and house — and he doesn’t do a freaking thing! 

In single-mom families, women are killing themselves to keep the house clean — spending precious energy and guilt on a task far beneath their abilities, and which competes with their work, joyful parenting, hobbies, health and a social life. All in the name of fulfilling some preconceived idea about what it means to be a woman and mother.

The studies around women doing so much more housework than men usually evoke cries for men to step it up, already. I suggest: Just because someone is cleaning and laundering and cooking all the time, doesn’t mean that all that cleaning and laundering and cooking needs to be done. Maybe she needs to clean less? Or lower her standards? After all, in the study in which the amount of housework a wife does correlates with her professional success suggests that this is a far more complex issue that meets the eye — one mired in ancient, if not biological, gender norms, the need for romantic love and acceptance — nevermind sparkling countertops.

You and I are not going to sort this out in our lifetimes. The answer? Outsource housekeeping. It is good for cohabiting relationships, and, as a recent Harvard study found, makes people happier:

People who spent money to buy themselves time, such as by outsourcing disliked tasks, reported greater overall life satisfaction,” said Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School and lead author of the study, which was based on a series of surveys from several countries. Researchers did not see the same effect when people used money for material goods.

I call to take this a step further. You can lecture the public all day long that paying someone to clean, cook and launder for you is the answer, but our culture must first, change. As the Harvard researchers noted in the New York Times, in response to the low rate of Dutch millionaires who outsource unsavory tasks:

In the United States: a Protestant work ethic that values being busy or guilt over paying someone for a task that people could easily do themselves.

Add to this working-mom guilt, and women’s complicated relationship between our femininity and household chores. Turning this around will take far more than Ivy League research and New York Times articles laying out the facts.I elaborate on the cost-benefit analysis of outsourcing laundry alone in this post, which is one of the most-frequented on all of this blog. People get really, really defensive about why they should clean their own toilets. This calls for a life and societal-altering culture change.

The answer?

Save relationships and close the pay gap by giving gifts of housecleaning

Give housekeeping as a gift for weddings, housewarmings, house guest stays, and when people decided to move in together. Give it to people when they have a baby, divorce or to celebrate a new job or business. This is one part giving the family a gift that science proves will make them happier, and likely improve the chances their relationship will be harmonious and lasting. The gift is also an act of resistence, one freeing women from the shackles of our own — and others’  — expectations of wifely, domesticity, and equal that playing field for once and all.

Find a housekeeper whose services you can give as a gift at Care.com, or, if you live close to your loved one, pay your own cleaner to attend to their home — and relationship.

Let's give housecleaning for gifts and save relationships. Tips for saving your marriage. Outsourcing household chores can save marriages.

4 thoughts on “Let’s give housecleaning for gifts and save relationships

  1. This is totally a double edge sword. These services work becuase they pay at or near minimum wage with few or no benifits. And even less worker protections since the workers are considered contractors. Guess who this industry normally employ, mostly women. I would bet money that they are mostly women with children who are in need of any job they can find.

    1. I totally understand where you’re coming from, but Care.com is actually set up to help household employers find household employees directly instead of utilizing the types of agencies you describe. Care.com makes wage suggestions and provides a lot of information on what taxes must be paid (because if you pay more than $2,000 in 2017, the workers are considered employees, not independent contractors), but rates and wages are determined on an individual basis between employee/employer. The lowest wage to advertise for childcare was $10/hour. That might not seem like a lot in some areas, but in mine that’s actually pretty hard to come by for entry level jobs. Minimum wage here is $7.25/hr.

  2. Well, in my area, most house keepers make $20/hour. That is not cheap. If you hire someone you know who does this, then it’s helping them out and helping out yourself as well. Great idea and a win/win.

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