The Scourge of the Female Chore Burden

Gates’s letter is here.

A few observations:

  • The technological advances point is really important. I am still totally in awe of the dishwasher we now have. Before we try and reinvent a cheaper wheel though, let’s remember that if poor people had more money they’d be able to access more of the existing technology.
  • Part of recognising the uneven distribution of chores includes recognising how much skill is involved in doing chores efficiently. Men often seem to dismiss this – at least, most of the men I know count chores in terms of how much time is spent, not in terms of what gets done in that time. My husband gives the little dude his bath every night, and in that time, I tidy the little dude’s bedroom, get him his cup of milk for the bath, clear the lounge and set out his nappy and pajamas and story books and stuffed toys on the couch, put a load of washing on, clear the kitchen bench, check my work emails to see if there’s anything I need to respond to before bed, and get the ingredients out for dinner and start prepping until I hear the call “Mummy! Ready dedt out!” There’s mental effort in getting things done in the shortest possible time, like remembering to turn the oven on to heat up before I get the little dude out of the bath. Also, I do chores while looking after the little dude – which my husband almost never does. Emptying the dishawasher while the little dude semi-competently feeds himself porridge in the morning. Taking the washing off the line while he plays in the garden. Tidying a toy away when he loses interest. Etc. 
  • I have mixed feelings about this point: “it’s obvious that many women would spend more time doing paid work, starting businesses, or otherwise contributing to the economic well-being of societies around the world. The fact that they can’t holds their families and communities back.” I could pick up more paid work if my husband did more chores, but, it would be low on my priorities list. I work 0.7FTE and I think I get about 85% of a fulltime load done in that time. I just don’t have the lulls that I used to have. I was 0.6FTE when I first went back to work and found I couldn’t quite get the job done in the hours I was paid for, but since picking up the extra few hours, I feel like it’s fairly close to the ideal balance. To my mind, the key goal is to adjust working expectations so that they accommodate equal sharing of unpaid labour and allow for leisure time. Expectations of “full time” should match the a number of hours that can be comfortably worked by two parents while also remaining involved at home and having some time here and there to, y’know, chill out. 
  • Related – the gender chores split necessarily raises the question of “outsourcing”. This transforms unpaid work into paid work, in that it puts a price on something that wasn’t being counted before, but it doesn’t actually add anything to the economy. 

The Scourge of the Female Chore Burden