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Study Shows Girls Get Bulk of Household Chores


Children's household chores have traditionally been assigned by gender. Girls vacuumed and washed dishes while boys took out the garbage and mowed the lawn. In the last 30 years, as more and more women entered the workforce, relations between the sexes have changed a lot. But a new study shows that when it comes to chores, they haven't much. NPR's Allison Keyes reports.

ALLISON KEYES: On a recent night at the Border's household in Friendship Heights, Maryland, 13-year-old Caroline helps her mother set up for dinner while her twin brother Cain does his math homework.


(Soundbite of dishes)

KEYES: Their mom says they are determined to make sure their chores are shared equally. So the twins were intrigued by University of Michigan's study showing that girls ages 6 through 17 do two more hours of housework every week than boys. Cain was surprised.

Mr. CAIN BORDER: Because all of my friends usually don't do chores or it's split down equally. I've actually never heard of a girl who did more chores.

KEYES: Caroline says her female friends tend to do more chores, but she is struck by the different perceptions people tend to have about men, women and housework.

Ms. CAROLINE BORDER: Whenever I see a cleaning, like, ladies and people, you always think of them as cleaning ladies, you never think of cleaning men. And I just think that's almost sexist, because men could also be doing that.


KEYES: Over in Bethesda, Maryland, 15-year-old Ben Morris's mom asked him to make dinner for himself and his 12-year-old brother Charlie. He thinks chores shouldn't be based on gender, but listen closely to Ben's thoughts on whether it would be a problem if women only learned chores like cooking and cleaning and guys only learned how to mow lawns and carry heavy loads.

Mr. BEN MORRIS: Yeah, definitely because there aren't - it's not like everybody comes in pairs. So guys are going to have to learn to cook and do laundry and, you know, generally from what my understand is, guys aren't as good at doing that kind of thing. And you know, they wives and people who help them with that.

KEYES: University of Michigan economics professor Frank Stafford is directing the research on the study of 3,000 children, aged 10 to 18. He says not only are girls devoting close to seven hours a week to household chores, compared to nearly five hours for boys, boys are as much as 10 percent more likely to get paid for their work. Why?

Professor FRANK STAFFORD (University of Michigan): One of the contending explanations would be sociological, that the young girls are more or less, quote, "expected" to do more housework. And so even without this incentive structure, they do end up performing substantially more, more housework and chores around the house than boys do.

KEYES: The chores gender gap is almost doubled for adults and, coincidentally, for 15 and a half-year-old Shakira Olmer(ph). When she gets home in Weston, Florida, she does twice the chores than her 14 and 16-year-old brothers do.

Ms. SHAKIRA OLMER: When I finish my homework, I do laundry, I do the dishes, I sweep, I fix up - I fix up my room, things like that.

KEYES: Do you think that's fair?

Ms. OLMER: No. But you have to live with it, right?

KEYES: Shakira's mom, Pat Royal, admits it's true. But she insists it's not for a lack of trying to be fair.

Ms. PAT ROYAL (Shakira's Mother): I vowed, because I was married to somebody who never did any housework, that I would not raise my sons to be that way. And so they've all been exposed to, you know, the same criteria, the same expectations, and the girls just seem to be more - boys could sit in the middle of, you know, garbage and it doesn't bother them. It bothers the girls.

KEYES: But Caroline and Cain's mom, Grace Morgan, thinks the difference in what chores kids want to do are more about personality than gender.

Ms. GRACE MORGAN: Certain kids like doing some of that house related stuff, other kids don't.

KEYES: Morgan says as a parent it's best to try to keep it fair. But play to your children's strengths, or risk a big argument over every chore.

Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.