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Media Ignores the Importance of Housework in Divorce Rates and Career Advancement

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The Telegraph picked up a recently published London School of Economics research about housework. They were in lonely company. The piece did not see the light of day in the Financial Times, The New York Times or the Washington Post. Why not? Could it be that housework is not considered a serious topic?

And yet, to researchers looking at issues like divorce rates and career advancement, housework is a serious topic. The mop is not as benign as it seems.

The London School of Economics newly released a study showing that divorce rates are lower in families where husbands help with housework. Lead researcher Dr. Wendy Sigle-Rushton said that "the fathers' unpaid work entirely offsets the increased probability of divorce resulting from the mothers' participation in paid work". These findings of 3,540 married British couples demonstrate that when housework is shared, or alleviated from the women's plate, families do better.

This study follows one by researchers at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University looking into the role housework plays in careers of highly trained academic scientists. Published in the January issue of Academe, the Stanford study shows that women scientists do 54% of the cooking, cleaning, and laundry in their households; men scientists do 28%. This translates to over 10 hours per week for women who are already working as professional scientists nearly 60 hours per week. These findings show that outsourcing housework is a smart strategy that helps women to succeed at the job.

Perhaps gains to family and career are not enough to make front-page news. What about growth of GDP?

The Stanford study looks deeper into the issue of housework. Instead of recommending that each individual working woman find a housework solution, the Clayman Institute recommends that employers take housework out of the home.

Many employers already offer health care and childcare supplements; some even support housing benefits. The Clayman Institute recommends that institutions provide a package of flexible benefits that employees can customize to support any private side of life that saves time and hence enhances productivity, including housework.

Providing benefits for domestic labor revalues housework that is not fully represented in GDP. Housework is primarily invisible labor carried out by women -- some even Nobel Prize winners -- behind closed doors and often in the wee hours of the morning. Increasing the incidence of outsourced labor with a smart benefits package can help bolster GDP, even in down times.

Hilary Abell, Executive Director of WAGES Cooperatives, says that household income goes up +50% when a woman joins a professional cooperative cleaning service. She has access to benefits herself, including vacation and sick day coverage, and consistent income. WAGES Cooperatives revenues went up +5% last year despite the down economy. Outsourced household labor must be professionalized responsibly, and models like WAGES Cooperatives prove that this is possible.

While U.S. employers generally do not provide a benefit to assist with the burden of housework, a few in other parts of the world, such as Sony Ericsson in Sweden, do. There the company pays for housecleaning from select service providers. The employee then pays the government tax imposed on the benefit. The Swedish government considers this a win-win situation for those involved: workers, household cleaners, and employers.

The time is ripe to apply some "spring cleaning" to old beliefs about the mop. The next time a major institution publishes a study on housework, we hope to see it on the front page of the news section. This private work needs to be put onto the national grid. Families win. Careers advance. And GDP, well, gets cleaned up.

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