In this historic election season – the first in which a woman tops a major party ticket – much has been made of glass ceilings and gender inequality.
Despite that the United States was on the early side of women’s suffrage internationally, it’s taken 76 years since the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote was ratified for us to reach this point as a country, long after women reached top elected offices in other countries – from the U.K’s Margaret Thatcher to Germany’s Angela Merkel.
In addition to a host of social and economic issues facing American voters in November, it’s clear that for some, the question of a woman in charge of the country is an open one. The right to vote clearly didn’t sweep away gender roles, and all of the preset social expectations we have for what women and men can do outside the home. For some, a woman in the country’s highest office just may take some getting used to.
Less substantial but related is the improving lot for women (across the western world, anyway) when it comes to regular household labor. A recent study completed by researchers at the University of Oxford, England, analyzed data tracking the division of household chores between men and women from 1960 to today. The data is mostly encouraging. In a little more than 60 years, women in Europe, North America and Australia are responsible for far less of the household chores than they used to be.
According to the data used in the study, American women in 1965 spent 195 more minutes (three hours and 15 minutes) a day on household chores than men. That number reflected similar circumstances across all the other countries studied where women spend between three and four hours more every day taking care of the home.
Today, in the United States, that gap has shrunk a great deal to an average of 65 minutes a day. Interestingly, that is up from a low point in 1998 when the average gap was only 48 minutes more for women on average.
The United States does well when compared to other countries studied. It’s among Germany, the U.K., Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, and all three Scandinavian countries where the gender gap in household chores has settled to approximately an hour a day. All countries are doing better than France, Spain and Italy, where the the gap is shrinking but still is larger. In Italy, the gap is about three hours.
While the study shows clear progress in the last two generations, it isn’t clear that we’re on the way to reaching a real point of equality. Among those leading countries, most of the trend lines have flattened (with the United States even briefly ticking up). Still, the researchers are convinced that the study shows things will continue to get more equal for women.
“The data shown here support the view that despite short-term stalls, slowdowns, and even reverses, as well as important differences in policy contexts, the overall picture is of a continuing move towards greater gender equality in the performance of housework,” the Oxford study concluded.
If Hilary Clinton does win, politics aside, it may further hasten the shrinking gender-equality gap, not only in the home, but outside of it as well.
— Pete Mazzaccaro