Studies show girls unfairly shoulder a larger share of the housework from an early age
Children’s chores are a perennial problem for parents.
Ask any of us about our experiences of getting children to help with household tasks and you might get the answer that getting them to help often isn’t worth the effort required.
Whether the effort is in nagging them constantly until the chore is done or having to do it with them to ensure it is done to a half decent standard, or having to redo the chore after their efforts so it is done properly, many parents skip the effort and just do the chore themselves.
Maybe this explains why there have been consistent findings in research that children are doing less chores now than they ever used to.
For example, a German study tracking about 3,000 children found a significant decrease in time spent on chores from 1991/92 to 2012/13. A recent analysis of the Growing Up In Ireland data for about 5,000 children showed a similar decrease in time spent on chores across the whole group from age 9 to 13, although girls were doing more chores at age 13.
Researchers looking at the role and impact of children’s chores have shown that there are positives and negatives associated with their involvement in household tasks.
Participating in housework is good for children’s development of responsibility and self-discipline. They learn important life skills like cooking, caring for others and so on. It also typically affords them more time with parents since their parents are likely to be similarly engaged with housework tasks at the same time.
However, doing housework does take from the time children have available for their academic studies and some research suggests that children who do more chores have poorer grades.
But if we return to the finding from the Growing Up In Ireland data that girls are doing more chores at age 13 than they were at age 9, then the overall decrease is because boys are doing significantly less chores over the same age span.
This points to another very significant factor in childhood chores, namely that participation in chores tend to follow very gender specific patterns.
Firstly, girls spend more time doing chores than boys. Secondly, the kinds of chores girls do are usually cooking, cleaning, caring for relatives or younger children or vacuuming. Boys on the other hand are more likely to cut the grass, clean the car or put the bins out.
The authors of the study highlight the inequalities of this typically gendered approach to chores that was evident in their findings. It perpetuates the generally accepted assumptions that girls and women will shoulder more of the “domestic” tasks in a household.
This has also been found to be the case worldwide and so limits ‘free’ time for women, whereas men are accorded more time for leisure, sports and hobbies.
All of which should send alarm bells ringing for parents. I’ve written before how so many of the gender stereotypes that are problematic in life tend to be socialised in children from a young age.
These findings about girls, not only doing certain types of chores but doing more chores than boys, is a classic example of the implicit messages we give children by the way in which we deal with them.
There is a real opportunity for fathers and mothers to try to rebalance these gender inequalities in domestic tasks by making sure to role model sharing chores and to engage all of your children in all of the different types of chores that are there.
Getting boys to cook, clean and care for others needs to be part of the accepted fabric of your family. Letting them off the hook with these kinds of tasks will simply allow them to learn the same gender stereotyping they will carry into adolescence and adulthood.
Unless we challenge the stereotypes embedded from childhood, we will have the ongoing perpetuation of those stereotypes into future generations, limiting women’s freedoms or placing an unnecessary burden of duty and responsibility on their shoulders for jobs that need to be spread fairly among the family and shared with their partner.
Even if it seems more effort than it’s worth, I’d highly recommend engaging your children in chores, setting the habits of helping the family into their consciousness from as early an age as possible.
When children are younger, they want to help. They want to be actively involved in the ‘work’ that parents do and we can take advantage of this.
Allowing them to help alongside us gives exactly the opportunities we need to engage with them, teach them, talk with them and promote their physical, social and emotional development.
They may even learn that doing the housework is everyone’s job.