Mind the Gap: Liz O’Donnell’s New Book on Moms in America

Feminists and economists alike have been buzzing about the latest data released from the U.S. Census Bureau that shows the gender-based wage gap has remained virtually the same for the past decade. Women earn, on average, just .77 cents for every dollar a man earns. And for women of color the gap is even greater.

But another gender-based gap is worth talking about too – the housework gap. This gap has a direct and negative correlation to the wage gap.

Sure, men are doing more housework than they’ve ever done before, but they were starting from a low percentage. According to the American Time Use Survey, women still do approximately 30 percent more housework and child care than their spouses. Even in homes where couples split chores like cooking, cleaning, and yard work, women tend to shoulder the burden of invisible tasks like scheduling doctor’s appointments, arranging carpools, and organizing play dates.



Another new study, this one from The Pew Research Center, reports there are approximately 550,000 stay-at-home fathers in the United States, and while these men do more housework and childcare than their partners do; it’s not that much more. A working woman with a spouse who stays home does approximately 14 hours of housework and 9 hours of childcare per week. Compare that to a working man with a spouse who stays home. They do approximately 8 and 6 hours respectively. Clearly, women are carrying a large share of the responsibilities at home, regardless of their work status.

These inequities inside the home contribute to inequities in the workplace. Women are stretched thin; 15 percent report feeling tired or exhausted almost every day. And employers are concerned. Research from Shelley J. Correll, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, supports the idea that many employers believe mothers are less committed to their jobs than other employees. As a result, employers are reluctant to hire them and offer them high salaries. And two other professors, Joni Hersch and Leslie S. Stratton, published research in The Journal of Human Resources, indicating housework indeed has a direct and negative correlation to women’s wages. And they suggested one theory for this could be employer’s negative reactions to women who appear dedicated to household activities.

Those who believe the wage gap is the result of choices women make are missing the bigger picture. They attribute the gap to women choosing jobs with lower salaries or choosing to work part time or take time off to care for family. Some women do. But many women, who may appear to choose to cut back at work, are actually just trying to manage the demands of home and career.

Women’s partners, including the more than half a million stay-at-home fathers, should push for legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would strengthen earlier fair pay legislation, and should play an active role in closing the gap at home. And companies should take a hard look at how they can embrace working parents, especially working mothers, as a vital part of the workforce. By instituting family-friendly policies like flex time and telecommuting, and encouraging not only women, but also men to use them, they can help create a more equitable dynamic in both the home and the office.

When you consider that more than half of American women who work are breadwinnerscontributing at least some part of the necessary income to maintain their households, you can see the wage gap is not a woman’s issue; it’s a family issue.

If we don’t mind the gap, families stand to lose out on income necessary to get by, women stand to lose out on lucrative career choices, and businesses stand to lose out on the valuable contributions of women at work.

About the Author

Liz O’Donnell is the author ofMogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Womanand the founder ofHello Ladies, named one of the top 100 websites for women by Forbes. She is a public relations executive who lives with her husband and two children outside of Boston.