By Richard P. Holm, MD
Women’s health can be directly tied to the burden of household responsibilities. In a 2016 study, researchers found that women are more often the primary parent of children, the one who determines family healthcare decisions, the caregiver for the elderly parents on both sides and the one that does more of the cooking and dishes, cleaning, laundry and grocery shopping. Other studies have found that doing dishes alone was particularly burdensome.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor says our society is getting somewhat better in sharing the household work, but a difference still remains. For example, in 2003, men participated in food preparation and clean-up on average of 35 percent of his days, and in 2015 it was 43 percent. Nice to see an eight percent improvement but the women’s share in 2015 was still 70 percent. In 2015, women participated in cleaning housework 50 percent of her days while it was 22 percent for men. Lawn and garden work was the only chore accomplished more by men than women.
How much does this happen because the man is often the primary earner? In another study done at Indiana University in 2016, they studied household work in families where the woman’s income was larger than the man’s. They found that household burdens seemed not to align with income but rather with the traditional roles of masculinity and femininity. They also found that in same-sex couples, gender identity still directs roles. We haven’t reached equality of the sexes at work and we haven’t reached equality at home, either.
This is important because of the possible negative effect it may have on family relationships. There are studies to show that each person in a household has expectations and responsibilities, whether it be the alpha mom, the alpha dad, the children or even the grandparents. If the woman (or the man) expects the other to pitch in but ends up stuck with all the chores, she or he may be disappointed, embittered, angry and feeling abused. If those hard feelings are not resolved and are covered up, then depression may be the result.
When one member of the family is hurting, everyone feels the pain. Research data from Myrna Weissman PhD, a professor of psychiatry, shows that mental illness and depression spreads within a household. Strong emotional sharing occurs there, and when emotional pain of one person in the family is treated and improves, everyone gets better.
Simply helping with the dishes might be an enormous step toward making a happier home.
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