One of the staple feminist claims heard every March during International Women's Day and Women's History Month is that "women do the work of the world." This myth was publicized by the United Nations during the 1970s ("Women constitute one half of the world's population [and] do two-thirds of the world's work") and reinforced in 1995 with the release of its "Human Development Report" and the presentation of the report at the UN International Women's Conference in Beijing. The report's claim that women do more work than men was reported widely and uncritically by the US media with headlines such as "It's Official: Women Do Work Harder" and "A Woman's Work is Never Done."
To judge who does "the work of the world" in a world of over six billion people is a gargantuan task, but let's begin by asking two questions:
1) Who works the most hours (inside or outside the home) in the average family unit worldwide?
2) Who does the most demanding and dangerous work?
The second question is much easier to answer than the first, so let's start there. According to the International Labor Organization, an estimated 1.1 million workers are killed in industrial accidents each year, exceeding the number killed from war, violence, road accidents and AIDS.
These accidents occur primarily in mining, logging, heavy agricultural labor, construction, fishing, heavy manufacturing and various other overwhelmingly male jobs. The ILO estimates that 600,000 lives would be saved every year if available safety practices were used. The ILO also estimates that there are approximately 250 million victims of occupational accidents and 160 million victims of occupational diseases each year. The ILO doesn't keep figures by gender, but in countries where such figures are available (such as South Africa, England, Australia and Canada), the fatalities and serious injuries are usually over 90 percent male.
The gender breakdowns in the U.S. are little different. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were over 125 million workplace injuries in the United States between 1976 and 1999. Nearly 100,000 American workers died from job-related injuries over the past decade and a half, 95% of them men. Of the 25 most dangerous jobs listed by the U.S. Department of Labor, all of them are between 90 percent and 100 percent male. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, more than three million workers a year are treated in hospital emergency rooms for occupational injuries and nearly 50 American workers are injured every minute of the 40-hour work week. On average, every working day 25 workers die, 24 of them male.
So there is no doubt that the most dangerous and demanding jobs are done by men, in most if not virtually every society, and that men shoulder the burden of dangerous labor in the U.S. Let's consider the other question: Who works the most hours (inside or outside the home) in the average family unit worldwide? It's a much harder question to answer but, as best as can be told, the average man is doing at least as much as the average woman is.
As men's issues author Warren Farrell explained in his 1999 book Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say, the U.N. report upon which most claims of "women work more" are based was deeply flawed. In fact, U.N. official Terry McKinley admitted in February, 1996 that the U.N. misrepresented the study in several important ways. For one, the information provided by the U.N. to the press only applied to countries where women were found to work more hours than men; the countries where men were found to work more hours than women were deliberately excluded.
Moreover, when the data provided by researchers in some countries (including the U.S.) did not fit the U.N.'s intention to show that women "do more," researchers were asked in a private communication to amend their studies. Researchers were asked to include women's voluntary community work as well as hobbies in order to increase women's perceived workload. Researchers were not asked to include these items or new ones in men's labor. As a study of men and women's labor, the U.N. findings are worthless.
Even if one could possibly do an effective study on how many hours the average man and woman worked inside and outside the home worldwide, a finding that women work more hours would not mean that women work "harder" or "more" because such a study would still not account for the more difficult and dangerous nature of men's work.
Feminists have made similar claims of "women do more" in relation to the division of labor in the United States. The idea of what Farrell calls the "second shift woman and the shiftless man" was brought into vogue in large part by UC Berkeley professor Arlie Hochschild's best-selling 1989 book The Second Shift. In it she wrote (and the media uncritically repeated) "women work an extra month of 24 hour days each year."
However, as Farrell notes, Hochschild arrived at her "women do more" conclusion through a variety of disreputable gimmicks. For one, she compared the housework burdens of full-time employed males with those of part-time employed females, portraying men working 50 hour weeks as lazy and selfish for not doing as much housework as their wives who were working a 20 hour week. Also, she claimed that men did no more housework in the late 1980s than in the pre-feminist era, but, with one minor exception, she used data on male housework from studies done in the pre-feminist era, rendering it worthless. In addition, she also defined "housework" to include chores usually done by women, ignoring many of the household tasks generally performed by men.
In reality, objective, scientifically credible studies have shown that American women are not working more or harder than men. For example, the U.N.'s survey on the United States showed that American men work three more hours a week on average than American women. The Journal of Economic Literature reports that the average man works five hours more, and a study released last year by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, the world's largest academic survey and research organization, put the disparity at three more male hours per week.
In addition, these surveys (both the serious ones and the feminist advocacy ones) count only hours worked. A man doing eight hours of dangerous construction work in the 100-degree heat is credited with no more "work" than a woman who works in an air-conditioned office or who, in the comfort and safety of her own home (and without a supervisor breathing down her neck), cooks breakfast, takes the kids to school, packs her husband's lunch and folds the laundry while chatting on the phone.
Nevertheless, as Farrell notes, negative references to men and housework litter our popular culture. "The Myth of Male Housework: For Women, Toil Looms From Sun to Sun" was a headline in one major publication, over a cartoon depicting a woman juggling (and struggling) with a baby, a roasted turkey, and a house pet, while her husband watches TV and "juggles" his beer and his potato chips. Other major publications have highlighted women's alleged burdens under headlines such as "For Women, Having It All May Mean Doing It All," and "The Trouble with Men," with one even commenting, "A woman's work is never done, a man is drunk from sun to sun."
Feminists are correct to be concerned about the plight of the women in the underdeveloped nations of the world. Their error is that they blame men. The enemy of most of the women of the world is not the man who works hard to provide for his wife and children, but instead the grinding poverty that wreaks devastation on everybody: men, women and children.
©2007, Glenn Sacks