Younger women are working longer hours and earning more than ever before. But they’re still carrying more of the burden at home.
While millennial households are more likely to adopt egalitarian views about gender, reporting they want to split household duties and income equally, research shows those promises often collapse under the weight of long-held gender stereotypes.
On an average day, 19% of men reported doing housework like laundry, cleaning and other tasks, compared to 49% of women. Women also spend more time every day doing these tasks, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“I think we still have stated intentions and then we have the realities of giving up privilege,” says Jill Yavorsky, assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “Men still have a lot of privilege in being able to fall back on gendered notions, because if not, they have to participate a lot in housework and potentially give up on potential career advantages. When it comes down to it, many men are not willing to walk the walk.”
Working more at work, but not working any less at home
In 2017, 78% of young adult women worked at least 50 weeks per year, according to the Pew Research Center. That’s an increase from 72% of employed young women in 2000.
They’re also getting paid more, helping them contribute more to household income. Full-time female employees aged 22 to 37 had median earnings of $39,000, up from $37,100 in 2000. This extra earning power helped the millennial household net more than any previous generation of Americans, according to Richard Fry, senior researcher at the Pew Research Center.
“Given the fact that the millennial generation was hit so hard by the Great Recession, this is a story about how they’re really now starting to put the Great Recession in the rear view mirror,” says Fry.
Yet as women contribute more to household income, they’re still also doing the majority of the unpaid domestic work. Some researchers have pointed to this as a “stall” in the gender revolution, says Melissa Milkie, professor of sociology at the University of Toronto.
“When we talk about things like the wage gap, it’s often not linked to what’s happening in the home, and I think it needs to be, because of that unpaid labor that’s really a central part of people’s work-life balancing,” Milkie says. “With women, the cost is borne in their career or their wages when they’re doing more in the home.”
Young adult men are working slightly more, too. But men also spend more time than women exercising, playing games and enjoying other leisure activities, according to the US Department of Labor.
The traditional gender divide
American households can’t rely on public policies that could ease this change. Accessible, affordable childcare and paid family leave would make it easier for couples to actually fulfill their promises of equality, Yavorsky points out.
“They have an ideal world set-up: in an ideal situation, we would be egalitarian,” she says. “Then they have a child and they realize there are all these institutional constraints that make it difficult to achieve egalitarianism.”
For a long time, couples divided the labor at home depending on who made the most money. Because men were typically the high earners, they got a pass when it came to helping out in the home.
But as more women are contributing more to the household income, that dynamic could soon change.
“In the 1990s, women did most of the changing: entering the workforce, entering different occupations, they did less housework, the housework gap closed, so women did a lot of the changing early on — and then we stalled out,” says Joanna Pepin, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin. “So there’s a reason to suspect that future progress is going to need change on men’s part — men doing more in the home and entering different professions.”