by Laurie DeRose, Frances Goldscheider, Andrés Salazar, Paúl Corcuera, Montserrat Gas, Reynaldo Rivera, Claudia Tarud
In this section of the World Family Map report, we investigate how variations in union status and work-family arrangements are associated with men’s and women’s self-reported level of happiness. We document how couples with children divide market and domestic work in 32 countries; explore how the presence of children is related to how much work couples perform and how they divide it; and test the association of work-family arrangements with happiness among parents. Although happiness is more difficult to define and measure than objective, numerical indicators such as income levels, a large body of cross-national research suggests that happiness can be successfully compared across nations and used as an indicator of human thriving.1
The experiences of the thousands of individuals and couples we studied yielded three key findings:
- 1 – No single model of dividing paid and domestic work between partners predominates in any region around the globe.
- 2 – Couples with children spend more hours working (across paid and domestic work) each week than couples without children, and having children is more strongly associated with dividing work along traditional gender lines in higher-income countries than in lower-income ones.
- 3 – Among parents, couples dividing labor in very different ways express mostly similar levels of happiness, although parents who have a partner with whom to divide the labor report more happiness than parents who do not have a partner.
The last half-century has witnessed two dramatic changes in social life: a gender revolution bringing about more egalitarian beliefs and behaviors and an evolution of the family characterized by major changes in family structure, processes, beliefs, and behaviors.2 The consequences of these changes are still playing out today in different ways around the globe.
Gender egalitarianism arose partly from changing economies. As two incomes are increasingly necessary to support families in many countries, the traditional division of labor with men’s earnings supporting stay-at-home wives becomes less practical. It may also become less desirable where women as well as men are educated and socialized for market work. Greater gender equity in the public sphere—both in the law books and in public institutions like the government, the marketplace, and educational institutions—can result in a renegotiation of gender roles in the private sphere.3
At the same time, a retreat from marriage has been underway in most regions of the world. Today, only the Middle East and Asia have high rates of marriage and low rates of cohabitation. In contrast, in the Americas, Europe, and sub-Saharan Africa, marriage is a less normative part of adulthood: both singleness and cohabitation are common.4
Together, these changes mean that men and women are navigating their work and home lives on new terrain. Gender roles are shifting, and they are not worked out in the context of marriage as frequently as in the past. Nevertheless, it is important not to assume that gender roles will change among all couples in the same way. We may be heading toward a world where strong families depend upon the widespread institutionalization of egalitarian roles, as Frances Goldscheider and Linda Waite predicted, based on trends in the United States, in New Families, No Families?: The Transformation of the American Home.5
Or we may be heading toward a world where no one work-family model dominates the life of most ordinary families. Catherine Hakim has argued that work-family preferences are likely to vary, now that men and women have more freedom to organize their work and family lives as they see fit.6 As for marriage, despite the rise in cohabitation, in most countries marriage remains the primary context for the rearing of children.7 What all this means is that contemporary family life in much of Africa, the Americas, and Europe is characterized by profound pluralism, where no single model of family life is dominant.
Men and women’s changing roles in the labor force and the family
Women’s rate of participation in the paid labor force varies tremendously around the world. Depending on the country, anywhere between 15 and 88 percent of women over the age of 15 are economically active.8 But paid work tells at best half the story of how couples divide their labor, for housework and childcare are also necessary the world over. We follow Goldscheider and her colleagues (2015) in positing that there are two phases to men and women’s changing roles in the labor force and the family.9 During the first phase, women have increasingly joined men in the public sphere by participating in market work. The second phase involves men joining women in contributing to the private sphere of the family.10 Though these trends are intertwined, it is unclear how closely they relate to each other in different countries and regions, and whether they will lead to a new egalitarian norm remains uncertain.11
Moreover, existing cross-national studies of how couples divide domestic work and child care have focused almost exclusively on Western industrialized countries.12 We build on this body of work using the Family and Changing Gender Roles module of the 2012 International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) to provide a geographic perspective on the progress of women and men’s changing roles in which all regions of the world are at least minimally represented.
Private and public constraints to men’s integration in domestic work
Increasing men’s involvement in work within the household often challenges prevailing notions of what is “men’s work” and what is “women’s work.”13 Cultural scripts for how gender is “done” tend to persist even when women enter the paid labor force in large numbers. Core housework (including cooking and laundry) generally remains female-dominated even when men perform less frequent household tasks like major cleaning, repairs, and tax returns.14 However, as we undertook this study we expected that there would be great diversity in how couples divide labor from one region to another, due to the complex interactions of biology,15 culture,16 and laws and institutions, as described below.
Men and women’s changing roles in the family can be shaped by laws and institutions,17 and institutional change has the potential to alter cultural scripts or expectations regarding appropriate gender roles and responsibilities. There are a number of factors that point to this. For example, in areas where part-time work lacks many of the benefits associated with full-time work, such as health insurance, couples may have a greater incentive to divide their labor traditionally than in areas where part-time work carries similar benefits to full-time work (proportional to the hours worked). In countries that provide universal preschool, meanwhile, the opportunity costs to having both partners in the paid labor force are lower because child care costs are reduced, so couples are freer to negotiate the division of labor as they wish, rather than based on financial needs.
Our contributions and expectations
We provide the first description of how couples with children divide paid and domestic labor that spans world regions. Literature on Western countries indicates that having children—particularly young children—tends to result in a more traditional division of labor.18 However, it is not clear from existing research whether this pattern holds across various economic and cultural contexts. Prior research suggests that we may not see a similar pattern in countries where informal sector jobs are more common and where relatives (or domestic workers) care for children more often, since children may not limit mothers’ paid work as much. Other research suggests that having children may have little impact on how couples divide labor in societies where there are strong state supports for children, such as the Scandinavian countries of Northern Europe.19
We also assess the correlation between couples’ reported happiness and how they divide labor. We expected that when women have entered paid work to a greater extent than men have entered domestic work, people will be less happy, given that performing a “second shift”20 of work at home in addition to their paid work responsibilities can be exhausting for women,21 and men tend to report higher levels of exhaustion when their partners are exhausted, which in turn affects their satisfaction.22 Women may be happier23 and children may do better24 in the opposite situation, when men remain the primary breadwinners but are more involved at home. But the situation in which men take on additional home responsibilities without shedding their primary provider role is a different kind of second shift that may make men feel overworked.
Sharing both paid and domestic work should be easier for families than burdening one partner with a second shift, but previous research has resulted in multiple perspectives, and it is not clear whether couples are happier with similar roles or complementary ones. It may be that couples enjoy each other more when their lives are more shared,25 and they may derive satisfaction from achieving an equity-based norm.26 However, other research suggests that couples might enjoy a measure of difference in their lives.27 Moreover, if unconventional gender roles challenge feelings of masculinity/femininity28 or meet with social ridicule,29 egalitarian arrangements might not be associated with happiness.
The neo-traditional model, in which the woman works part-time and the man works full-time, while the woman takes the lead in domestic work, may represent a happy medium in terms of couples’ non-work time, income, and similarity vs. complementarity. Furthermore, having an identity beyond “wife,” “mother,” or “housekeeper” can give meaning to women’s lives; regardless of financial necessity, paid work may add to women’s feelings of self-worth and promote their psychological well-being.30 On the other hand, professional women who take on more housework may be less happy,31 and some part-time jobs offer poor pay and poor promotion prospects.32 If part-time work is associated with jobs and full-time work with more meaningful careers, the satisfaction derived from part-time work may be limited.
Data and Methods
The International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) conducts comparable annual surveys in a wide variety of countries, and is well-known for its care in developing and translating questions that are meaningful in all of the countries.33
We use data from the 2012 survey on Family and Changing Gender Roles. Respondents answered questions about their own work as well as their partner’s. The survey was fielded in 37 countries as shown by region in Table 1. The five countries excluded due to data limitations are marked by italics, and their reasons for exclusion are identified in footnotes.
The starting sample size was 45,572 respondents in the 32 countries with the requisite data, but in the analyses of division of labor within couples (whether married or unmarried), we exclude the 19,612 respondents not living with a partner. We compare the happiness of single parents to that of couples with children who divide labor in various ways in our final analysis.
Among couples, we wanted to focus on those with significant market work and therefore dropped couples in which the sum of his and her paid work hours was less than 30 hours per week.34 In order to restrict the sample to couples who had a choice over how to divide labor, we dropped couples where at least one partner was disabled or retired (2,214), unemployed (1,623), or in compulsory service (46).
We further reluctantly dropped those giving responses like “don’t know,” “varies,” or “can’t choose” for work hours (1,530) and housework/care work hours (1,189). We dropped 150 that did not answer whether or not children were living in the household (mostly in Austria, France, and Japan), and nine that did not report their gender.35 This left 12,510 respondents in 32 countries, with a range from 221 observations in Argentina to 714 in Spain, and a total of 7,695 couples who fit our criteria and had at least one child in the household. We therefore present regional rather than individual country analyses.
To measure how couples divide paid and domestic work, we use the number of hours per week36 the survey respondent reported that they spend 1) doing paid work, 2) doing household work, and 3) caring for other household members. Respondents also reported the number of hours their partner spent in the same domains. For most analyses, we added housework hours to care work hours to obtain domestic work hours.
We first describe how having at least one child in the household is linked to men’s and women’s paid work and their domestic work across regions. Here we simply use a dummy variable indicating the presence of a child in the household and estimate its effect on reported hours of work using ordinary least squares regression. We estimated the effects separately for women and for men and separately for paid work and domestic work (four sets of regressions).
Then we focus on the first component of men and women’s changing gender roles by describing how couples with children divide paid work. We use four categories: traditional (he works for pay, she doesn’t), neo-traditional (both do paid work, but he works at least seven hours a week more than she does), egalitarian (the gap between their weekly paid work hours is less than seven), and reverse traditional (she works at least seven hours a week more than he does).37
We summarize the division of domestic work among couples with children using similar categories: traditional (she does all domestic work, he does none); neo-traditional (both do domestic work, but she does at least seven hours a week more than he does), egalitarian (the gap between their weekly domestic work hours is less than seven), and reverse traditional (he does at least seven hours per week more than she does).
Next, we consider the intersection of public and private spheres with the five categories depicted in Table 2. Here couples are only considered traditional or neo-traditional if he does more paid work and she does more domestic work (their division of labor is traditional in both spheres, with traditional vs. neo-traditional couples distinguished by whether she works in the paid labor force at all). When the woman’s paid work hours equal or exceed the man’s but she still does more domestic work than he does, we call that “her second shift.”38
We also introduce the term “his second shift,” which is not quite the opposite of her second shift. Her second shift occurs when a woman has entered market work on at least an equal basis to her male partner, but domestic work falls disproportionately on her. His second shift occurs when a man does at least as much domestic work as his female partner, but paid work falls disproportionately on him.
Less traditionalism among men and women is evident when she does not have less paid work and she does not do more domestic work. Although the bulk of couples in this category are truly egalitarian (their hours in both spheres are roughly equal), we hesitate to use the egalitarian label because this category also includes couples who may divide paid and domestic work unequally along non-traditional lines. What all of these couples have in common is that they break from tradition in the division of both paid work and domestic work, and we therefore label them “modern.”
We present descriptive statistics across regions for how couples divide paid work and domestic work as well as their joint division of paid and domestic work. We also test whether the effects of the respondent’s age,39 education,40 gender,41 religiosity,42 and ages/number of children43 on their labor division varied between regions.44 In addition to the region-based analysis, we also explicitly tested whether children are more closely associated with the division of labor in richer countries.45
Finally, we used our joint division of labor variable to predict happiness.46 Here we add a sixth category for parents without partners so that we can compare the happiness of single parents to couples dividing labor in various ways. Respondents were asked “if you were to consider your life in general, how happy or unhappy would you say you are, on the whole?” and were given a seven-point scale ranging from completely happy to completely unhappy. We used completely or very happy as the dependent variable in a logistic regression. We then predicted the percentage very/completely happy from the model: the predicted percentage very/completely happy controls for the same variables described above (respondent’s age, education, and so on). We also present the percentage of respondents agreeing that it is men’s job to earn money and women’s to take care of the home.
Men with children work slightly more paid hours, but women with children work fewer
Across the entire sample, partnered women work an average of 3.5 fewer paid hours per week in households with children than in those without children. However, as Figure 1 depicts with blue bars, the change in women’s paid hours associated with having a child varies quite a bit by region, from a slight increase to a reduction of 9.8 hours per week in Australia. In Western Europe, Asia, and Eastern Europe, women with children work significantly fewer hours than those without, but in the United States, Northern Europe, Central and South America, and South Africa, children do not have a significant effect on partnered women’s paid work hours. In Southern Europe, women with children actually work significantly more paid hours (2.2 more per week).
The association between children and men’s work hours is smaller and generally positive: men in households with children perform 1.2 additional hours of paid work per week across the entire sample. None of the regions are significantly different from this average, though the green bars in Figure 1 show some variation between regions.
Overall, the gap between his and her paid work hours is 4.7 hours greater in households with children, and a significantly larger gap emerges with the presence of children in Northern Europe,47 Australia, Western Europe, Asia, and Eastern Europe. The regions in Figure 1 are arrayed in order of decreasing gross national income per capita,48 and having a child in the household is associated with a larger gender gap in paid work hours in wealthier regions, with the exception of Southern Europe. In the United States, children increase the gap an estimated 3.3 hours, but this is not significant because the sample size is smaller than in regions containing more than one country.
We also found that the age of the child matters for women’s paid work hours but not for men’s (results not shown). Women in households with a child under school age did 5.6 fewer paid work hours per week than partnered women without kids, but having a school-aged child meant only 0.9 fewer paid work hours. Women in Eastern Europe with school-aged children work 2.2 more paid hours per week, but 15.0 hours fewer if they have younger children. The differences are smaller in other regions. Having school-aged children seems to curtail the paid work of women in Australia more than it does elsewhere, by 7.0 hours to be exact (and 10.0 hours for those with younger children).
Men and especially women with children do more domestic work
Although there are important regional and gender differences in the relationship between having children and the amount of domestic work, both men and women in households with children devote more hours to domestic work than couples without children in every region of the world (Figure 2). The sole exception to this generalization is among men in Australia (only there is the difference in domestic work hours between men who have children and those who don’t statistically insignificant). Nonetheless, because women’s domestic work load goes up more when children are present than men’s does, the gender gap in domestic work hours is 7.7 hours greater among households with children than those without. Having a child in the household is associated with a significantly larger gender gap in domestic work hours in every region.
The bulk of the difference in total domestic work (the sum of housework and care work) between households with and without children is in care work hours. Also, as one would expect, households with preschool children devote more time to care work than households with school-aged children. However, school-aged children add more to their parents’ housework burden than preschool children in many places. Some of this may simply reflect differences in how parents classify the time they spent multitasking: someone cleaning the bathroom while caring for a preschooler may think of that time as primarily child care while a parent cleaning the bathroom while their child does their homework may think of that time primarily as housework. Whatever the case, school-aged children add 0.9 to 3.8 hours to women’s weekly housework time in the six wealthiest regions (United States, Northern Europe, Australia, Western Europe, Southern Europe, and Asia). They add 1.1 to 1.7 hours to men’s housework time in Southern Europe, the United States, and Asia.
Parents divide paid work in diverse ways
How couples with children divide paid work (in terms of hours) varies between regions, as Figure 3 shows. The traditional division of paid work—a working father supporting a stay-at-home mother—is more common in the U.S., Australia, Asia, Central/South America, and South Africa (30 to 39 percent of partnered parents) than in any region of Europe (7 to 27 percent). The neo-traditional pattern with mothers working, but substantially less than fathers, is the most common arrangement in Australia and Western Europe, while an equal division of paid work is the most common arrangement in the rest of Europe and in South Africa. Despite its relatively high proportion of traditional couples, the U.S. is also home to the world’s greatest proportion of couples where the woman works substantially more hours than the man (14 percent of couples).
Most fathers do some domestic work, but mothers usually do more
The most common division of domestic work in every region is neo-traditional, meaning men pitch in, but women do significantly more. As Figure 4 illustrates, egalitarian arrangements are only common in Northern Europe, where almost half of couples with children share domestic work equally. Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and Australia, on the other hand, show the least integration of men into domestic work, with women doing substantially more than men in more than three-quarters of couples.
Partnered fathers participate in domestic work more than partnered mothers participate in paid work, but by and large, the regions where fewer mothers are in the paid labor force are the regions where men are the most likely to do no domestic work at all: South Africa, Asia, and Central and South America. The United States is the exception to this rule; 32 percent of partnered mothers do no paid work, but all fathers did at least some domestic work.
How parents divide work shows where gender roles are least traditional
Examining how couples with kids split up paid and domestic work together reveals where changes in men and women’s roles have been most fully institutionalized: Northern Europe, where couples with children are the most apt to report a modern division of labor (36 percent) and least apt to report a traditional one (5 percent). The United States and South Africa have the next largest proportion of couples with a modern division of labor (24 and 19 percent, respectively), and closely resemble each other across the other categories as well, as seen in Figure 5.
In certain regions, one phase in the evolution of gender roles has progressed more than the other. In Australia and Western Europe, both components are evident to a limited extent: these regions have large shares (41 and 38 percent, respectively) of neo-traditional couples where the woman does more domestic work and less paid work than her male partner. In Southern and Eastern Europe, on the other hand, women’s movement into paid work has progressed more quickly than men’s integration into domestic work. Almost half of women in these regions do as much paid work as their partners, but most of them still do more domestic work: they carry a second shift, as the large orange segments in Figure 5 indicate.
The later-developing regions of Asia, Central/South America, and South Africa have the largest percentages of women who do no paid work, 27 to 31 percent, but modern couples are approximately as prevalent in those areas as in other regions, with the exception of Northern Europe and the United States.
There is regional variation in the determinants of how couples with children divide labor
In every region besides Eastern Europe, mothers with more education are more likely to work as many paid hours as their partners. The link between fathers’ education and the distribution of paid work in relationships is less consistent across regions. In the United States, Northern Europe, Western Europe, and Asia, men who are more educated are less likely to have partners who work an equal or greater number of hours than themselves. Thus increases in educational attainment work both for and against women’s integration into the labor force, but the positive effect of women’s education outweighs the negative effect of men’s education on women’s paid work.49
As for men’s integration into domestic work, educated women are more likely to have partners at least equally engaged in domestic work everywhere besides Australia and Asia. Only in Asia are educated men less likely to do at least as much domestic work as their partners. In Southern Europe, educated men are more likely to do at least as much domestic work as their partners. Thus higher education levels are also associated with men’s involvement in the household, and, again, her education matters more than his.
People who attend religious services more frequently exhibit a more traditional division of paid work in Western Europe and Asia, and more religious people also have a more traditional division of domestic work in Northern, Western, and Southern Europe. However, in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Central/South America, religious attendance is positively associated with men’s participation in domestic work.
Couples with children tend to divide labor more traditionally than other couples, as our findings regarding their paid and domestic work hours implied, with the effect being especially pronounced in higher-income countries. The green lines in Figure 6 show that couples’ division of paid work is fairly similar whether or not they have children in lower-income countries. In higher-income countries, however, children reduce the probability that women will be engaged in paid work on at least an equal basis to their partners.
A similar story holds for domestic work. Having children is more associated with how couples allocate domestic work than with how they allocate paid work—the purple lines in Figure 6 are further apart than the green lines—and again, couples with children differ more from their childless counterparts in richer countries. Still, fathers generally log more domestic hours in richer countries than in lower-income ones. In more developed countries, the expectation may be for both parents to devote more time to children’s educational and social formation. National income, meanwhile, is not significantly associated with women’s integration into paid work or men’s into domestic work among couples without children.
Having a partner is more associated with parents’ happiness than division of labor
Overall, how couples with children divide labor is less closely related to happiness than one might expect, as Figure 7 depicts. The percentages shown in the figure, which include men and women together,50 were predicted controlling for age, education, religiosity, the number of preschool children in the household, and the number of school-aged children in the household.
Among parents, couples are happier than single parents, regardless of how the couples divide labor. In Eastern Europe, traditional couples and those in which the man carries the second shift—categories in which his paid hours exceed hers—are equally happy and all others are less happy. In Western Europe, couples in which the man carries the second shift are happier than those in which the woman carries the second shift.
Couples’ happiness with various ways of dividing labor does not seem to be strongly related to regional norms regarding how labor should be divided. Figure 8 illustrates marked differences in gender-role attitudes between regions that in most cases are not reflected in the happiness outcomes. For instance, many more people in Asia endorse traditional gender role attitudes (39 percent) than in the United States (20 percent); however, the two places exhibit similar patterns in the joint division of paid and domestic work, and couples in these two regions are equally happy regardless of how they actually divide labor.
Parents’ happiness is linked, however, to religious practice. People who attend religious services more frequently are more likely to be completely or very happy in Western, Eastern, and Southern Europe, plus Asia and Central/South America. The number and ages of couples’ children also mattered in certain regions. Having at least three school-aged children was associated with greater happiness in Central and South America, but parents with two school-aged children were less happy in Northern Europe. Having a preschool child was associated with greater parental happiness in Southern Europe and in Asia.
The limitations of our data lead to one caveat here: the extent to which various divisions of labor among the couples in our sample “work” could be exaggerated by the fact that the least functional arrangements may lead to union dissolution, and our sample only includes couples who are still together. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to assume that unions heading toward dissolution as well as those destined to last are both represented in data from a single point in time. In other words, even when studying only couples who are still together, a division-of-work category that contributes to unhappiness should contain a greater proportion of unhappy people.
In every region of the globe, couples with children find multiple ways to split up paid and domestic work. The strictly traditional arrangement, where the man is the sole breadwinner and the woman does the bulk of care work and housework, is a minority practice that characterizes less than a third of couples anywhere. Moreover, although women share in paid work to a greater extent than men share in domestic work, there is less of a gender gap in domestic work than many might have anticipated.
Education, particularly women’s education, drives changes both in women’s paid work and in men’s domestic work. But even though wealthier countries have higher education levels, there is no clear correspondence between national income levels and how couples divide labor. One reason is that having children is associated with dividing both types of work along more traditional gender lines to a greater extent in richer countries than in poorer ones. The difference might be a function of the cost of child care: where formal child care costs more, children reduce women’s work hours more.51 Additionally, in poorer countries, informal care is both cheaper and more likely to be provided by extended family. The difference may also have to do with the intensive parenting norms of richer countries that demand that parents expend much time and money facilitating their children’s development.
How couples with children divide paid and domestic work is not closely related to their levels of happiness. Instead, having a partner to divide work with is more strongly linked to parents’ happiness than how that work is divided. Men and women are equally satisfied with arrangements that overtax themselves as with those that overtax their partners (except in Western Europe). Couples are also no happier with more egalitarian arrangements than with unequal ones. Modern couples typically share equal responsibilities in the public and private spheres, traditional couples specialize, and yet they are equally happy almost everywhere.52
There is no dominant pattern for dividing labor between partners anywhere, and seemingly, in the midst of this profound pluralism, most parents find an arrangement that suits them well enough. At least when it comes to parents’ happiness, our results suggest that how you divide paid and domestic work matters less than having a partner with whom to share the load. As public policies and institutions give families more choices, societies may see a continued plurality of arrangements as couples tailor their work-family arrangements to their own needs and aspirations for themselves and their children.
1 R. Veenhoven, “Cross-National Differences in Happiness: Cultural Measurement Bias or Effect of Culture?,” International Journal of Wellbeing 2, no. 4 (2012).
2 F. Goldscheider, E. Bernhardt, and T. Lappegård, “The Gender Revolution: A Framework for Understanding Family and Demographic Behavior,” Population and Development Review 41, no. 2 (2015).
3 A. Thornton and L. Young-DeMarco (2001), “Four Decades of Trends in Attitudes Toward Family Issues in the United States: The 1960s Through the 1990s,” Journal of Marriage and Family, 63, no. 4 (2001).
4 L. Lippmann and W. B. Wilcox, “World Family Map 2014: Mapping Family Change and Child Well-Being Outcomes,” Child Trends, http://worldfamilymap.org/2014/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/WFM-2014-Final_ForWeb.pdf (2014).
5 F. K. Goldscheider and L. Waite, New Families, No Families?: The Transformation of the American Home (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991).
6 C. Hakim, “Women, Careers, and Work-life Preferences,” British Journal of Guidance & Counselling 34, no. 3 (2006).
7 Lippmann and Wilcox, “World Family Map 2014.”
8 “Labor Force Participation Rate, Female (% of Female Population Ages 15+) (modeled ILO Estimate),” World Bank, http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.TLF.CACT.FE.ZS (accessed January 26, 2015).
9 Goldscheider et al., “The Gender Revolution.”
10 Goldscheider et al., “The Gender Revolution.”
11 Hakim, “Women, Careers, and Work-life Preferences”; M. Y. Kan, O. Sullivan, and J. Gershuny, “Gender Convergence in Domestic Work: Discerning the Effects of Interactional and Institutional Barriers from Large-Scale Data,” Sociology 45, no. 2 (2011); W. Wang, “Mothers and Work: What’s Ideal?,” Pew Research Center (2013), http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/08/19/mothers-and-work-whats-ideal/.
12 S. Dex, J. L. Scott, and A. Plagnol, Gendered Lives: Gender Inequalities in Production and Reproduction (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2012); A. H. Gauthier, T. M. Smeeding, and F. F. Furstenberg, “Are Parents Investing Less Time in Children? Trends in Selected Industrialized Countries,” Population and Development Review 30, no. 4 (2004); Kan et al., “Gender Convergence in Domestic Work”; J. Neilson and M. Stanfors, “It’s About Time! Gender, Parenthood, and Household Divisions of Labor Under Different Welfare Regimes,” Journal of Family Issues 35, no. 8 (2014). For an exception, see R. Forste and K. Fox, “Household Labor, Gender Roles, and Family Satisfaction: A Cross-National Comparison,” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 43, no. 5 (2012).
13 Kan et al., “Gender Convergence in Domestic Work.”
14 S. Coltrane, “Research on Household Labor: Modeling and Measuring the Social Embeddedness of Routine Family Work,” Journal of Marriage and Family 62, no. 4 (2000).
15 S. E. Rhoads, Taking Sex Differences Seriously (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2005); J. R. Udry, “The Nature of Gender,” Demography 31, no. 4 (1994).
16 S. Hays, The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996).
17 Kan et al., “Gender Convergence in Domestic Work”; A. Rao and D. Kelleher, “Institutions, Organisations and Gender Equality in an Era of Globalisation,” Gender and Development 11, no. 1 (2003).
18 See e.g. B. Fox, When Couples Become Parents: The Creation of Gender in the Transition to Parenthood (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009). But for an exception case, see G. Kaufman, E. Bernhardt, and F. Goldscheider, “Enduring Egalitarianism? Family Transitions and Attitudes Toward Gender Equality in Sweden,” Journal of Family Issues (forthcoming).
19 M. Driber and M. Stanfors, “Does Parenthood Strengthen a Traditional Household Division of Labor? Evidence from Sweden,” Journal of Marriage and Family 71, no. 1 (2009).
20 A. R. Hochschild and A. Machung, The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home (New York: Viking, 1989).
21 M. B. Sussman, S. K. Steinmetz, and G. W. Peterson, Handbook of Marriage and the Family (New York: Springer Science & Business Media, 1999).
22 E. Demerouti, A. B. Bakker, and W. B. Schaufeli, “Spillover and Crossover of Exhaustion and Life Satisfaction Among Dual-Earner Parents,” Journal of Vocational Behaviors 67, no. 2 (2005).
23 M. Khawaja and R. R. Habib, “Husbands’ Involvement in Housework and Women’s Psychosocial Health: Findings from a Population-Based Study in Lebanon,” American Journal of Public Health 97, no. 5 (2007); W. B. Wilcox and J. Dew, “No One Best Way: Work-Family Strategies, the Gendered Division of Parenting, and the Contemporary Marriages of Mothers and Fathers,” in Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives, ed. Wilcox and K. K. Kline (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013).
24 W. H. Jeynes, “A Meta-Analysis: The Relationship Between Father Involvement and Student Academic Achievement,” Urban Education 50, no. 4 (2015); M. J. Carlson, “Family Structure, Father Involvement, and Adolescent Behavioral Outcomes,” Journal of Marriage and Family 68, no. 1 (2006).
25 Goldscheider and Waite, New Families, No Families.
26 W. B. Wilcox, E. Marquardt, D. Popenoe, and B. D. Whitehead, “When Baby Makes Three: How Parenthood Makes Life Meaningful and How Marriage Makes Parenthood Bearable,” in “The State of Our Unions: Marriage in America,” National Marriage Project and Institute for American Values (2011).
27 Rhoads, Taking Sex Differences Seriously; P. Schwartz, “Sexual Satisfaction in Committed Relationships,” The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (2007), http://www.sexscience.org/dashboard/articleImages/SSSS-SexualSatisfactionInCommittedRelationships.pdf.
28 M. L. DeVault, Feeding the Family: The Social Organization of Caring As Gendered Work (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).
29 J. L. Berdahl and S. H. Moon, “Workplace Mistreatment of Middle Class Workers Based on Sex, Parenthood, and Caregiving,” Journal of Social Issues 69, no. 2 (2013).
30 B. Friedan, The Second Stage (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998).
31 R. C. Barnett and K. C. Gareis, “Full-Time and Reduced-Hours Work Schedules and Marital Quality: A Study of Female Physicians with Young Children,” Work and Occupations 29, no. 3 (2002).
32 A. Booth and J. van Ours, “Hours of Work and Gender Identity: Does Part-time Work Make the Family Happier?” Economica 76, no. 301 (2009).
33 J. A. Harkness and A. Schoua-Glusberg, “Questionnaires in Translation,” ZUMA-Nachrichten Spezial 3, no. 1 (1998).
34 The 30-hour threshold was set so that even in countries with the shortest official work weeks, couples whose total work was at least one full-time equivalent would be included. Out of 26,140 couples, there were 6,869 that did not work at least 30 hours between the two of them, but this number includes couples where both partners were retired. Only in India did more than 20 percent of respondents reporting zero or minimal paid hours a week identify themselves as being in the labor force. India is the lowest-income country in the ISSP data and therefore more likely to have respondents engaged in agricultural work and/or work paid in kind rather than cash. Excluding those with few paid hours probably makes the sample more comparable to other countries by over-representing respondents in formal jobs, but it also makes the sample less representative of the whole population in India. The other countries where relatively large proportions (10 to 20 percent) of couples are excluded because their work hours do not sum to at least 30 per week are Chile, South Africa, South Korea, and Venezuela, but these countries are more comparable to the rest of the sample than to India, where over 40 percent of couples are excluded.`
35 The respondent’s gender is known, but the respondent’s partner’s gender is not known. Our assumption here that all partners are opposite-sex partners might lead to a slight overestimation of the extent to which division of labor departs from men specializing in market work while women specialize in domestic work. The relationship of the children in the household to the respondent is also not known, meaning the sample includes not just biological parents but step-parents, grandparents whose grandkids live with them, etc. We use the term “parents” for the sake of brevity and on the assumption that most respondents with children in the household are those children’s parents.
36 Reported hours per week were top-coded at fifty.
37 The seven-hour threshold is somewhat arbitrary, but we chose it for both empirical and theoretical reasons. Empirically, the existing literature tends to divide paid work into similar categories, with both partners working full-time as the category closest to our “egalitarian” category and a residual category of all couples where the man does not work full-time (regardless of what his partner does). We do not focus on full-time work per se, but we keep our work as close to the existing literature as possible by selecting a cut-off that created a neo-traditional category of a comparable size to existing studies (we tested five-, seven-, and ten-hour thresholds). Theoretically, seven is a nice threshold because it means that the partner working fewer hours per week works at least one hour less per day.
38 Our use of “second shift” differs slightly from the classic use of the term (in Hochschild and Machung, The Second Shift) in that we do not require that both partners be working full-time while the woman still does more domestic work: in our definition, the woman simply has to work as much as or more than the man while still doing more domestic work. We also do not confine our analysis to parents of preschoolers as Hochschild and Machung did.
39 Grouped 18 to 24, 25 to 44 (reference category), 45 to 65, and over 65.
40 The ISSP standardizes completed categories of education across countries. We use this ordinal variable as a continuous variable: no formal education, primary school, lower secondary, upper secondary, post secondary, lower level tertiary, and upper level tertiary.
41 Although it can be expected that partner’s domestic work hours would be generally under-reported relative to own hours (S. Kornrich, J. Brines, and K. Leupp, “Egalitarianism, Housework, and Sexual Frequency in Marriage,” American Sociological Review 78, no. 1. ), this should not bias overall results because own responses and proxy responses are approximately equally represented between men and women. We nonetheless include a control for respondent’s gender to capture gender-related reporting differences.
42 Frequency of service attendance is included as a continuous variable. The ordinal categories are never, less frequently than once a year, once a year, several times a year, two or three times a month, once a week, more often. Service attendance was not collected in Australia, and all observations for Australia were assigned to the mean for the entire sample. This does not affect regional analyses because Australia is the only country in Oceania; it does allow us to control for religiosity when testing the effects of other variables on the division of labor without omitting Australia.
43 We included a vector of dummy variables (zero, one, two, three or more) for both the number of preschool children and the number of school-aged children.
44 We used pooled logistic regression models with a complete set of interaction terms between region and the other independent variables. The dependent variable for paid work was the woman doing as much or more than the man (egalitarian and reverse traditional), and the dependent variable for domestic work was the man doing as much or more than the woman (egalitarian and reverse traditional). We included both the man’s education and the woman’s education to test whether each is related to the division of labor in the same way across regions. This necessitated omitting the nine countries where the survey did not collect partner’s education: Austria and Ireland in Western Europe, Chile in Central and South America, Norway in Northern Europe, Israel and the Philippines in Asia, Latvia and Russia in Eastern Europe, and South Africa.
45 We used a multilevel logistic regression model controlling for national income and included a cross-level interaction term between national income and whether or not a child was in the household. National income was measured using the purchasing power parity approach with data from IndexMundi.com for Taiwan (http://www.indexmundi.com/taiwan/gdp_per_capita_(ppp).html) and from the World Bank (http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.PP.CD) for all other countries (data not available for Argentina). The effects were nearly identical using gross national product converted using official exchange rates (including Argentina).
46 This outcome variable was not available for South Africa. Despite cross-national variation in levels of reported happiness, research has shown that happiness can be usefully compared across nations. See R. Veenhoven, “Cross-National Differences in Happiness.”
47 In Northern Europe, women in households with children do not have significantly fewer paid hours, but men do have significantly more (1.4 hours).
48 Argentina was omitted from the average for Central/South America because GNP data adjusted for purchasing power parity were not available.
49 In Western Europe, the effects of women’s and men’s education essentially cancel each other out, and in Eastern Europe, education is not a significant determinant of paid labor force participation.
50 It may seem inappropriate to combine men and women here given that, for instance, men might be less likely to be completely/very happy than their female partners when they are carrying a second shift. We tested the effects of the division of labor on happiness separately for men and women, and contrary to our expectations, for every category and for every region, the estimates for men and women did not differ significantly. (In contrast, D. Stevens, G. Kiger, and P. Riley, “Working Hard and Hardly Working: Domestic Labor and Marital Satisfaction Among Dual-Earner Couples,” Journal of Marriage and Family 63, no. 2  found that women were more affected than men by the division of labor.)
51 P. S. Schober, “The Parenthood Effect on Gender Inequality: Explaining the Change in Paid and Domestic Work When British Couples Become Parents,” European Sociological Review 29, no. 1 (2013).
52 Eastern Europe, where communism promoted women’s paid labor force participation long before any ideological changes affecting the domestic sphere, is the exception here (L. Ruppanner, “Cross-National Reports of Housework: An Investigation of the Gender Empowerment Measure,” Social Science Research 39, no. 6 ).
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Each year, we issue an open casting call for high school seniors who have dared to address money, work or social class in their college application essays. From the large pile that arrived this spring, these four — about parents, small business, landscapes and the meaning a single object can convey — stood out. The fifth essay in our package appeared on The New York Times’s new Snapchat Discover, and you can view it at this link by pressing the arrow/play button.
‘The professors’ home was a telescope to how the other (more affluent) half lived’
At age 6, I remember the light filled openness of the house, how the whir of my mother’s vacuum floated from room to room. At 9, I remember how I used to lounge on the couch and watch Disney cartoons on the sideways refrigerator of a TV implanted in a small cave in the wall. At 12, I remember family photographs of the Spanish countryside hanging in every room. At 14, I remember vacuuming each foot of carpet in the massive house and folding pastel shirts fresh out of the dryer.
I loved the house. I loved the way the windows soaked the house with light, a sort of bleach against any gloom. I loved how I could always find a book or magazine on any flat surface.
But the vacuum my mother used wasn’t ours. We never paid for cable. The photographs weren’t of my family. The carpet I vacuumed I only saw once a week, and the pastel shirts I folded I never wore. The house wasn’t mine. My mother was only the cleaning lady, and I helped.
My mother and father had come as refugees almost twenty years ago from the country of Moldova. My mother worked numerous odd jobs, but once I was born she decided she needed to do something different. She put an ad in the paper advertising house cleaning, and a couple, both professors, answered. They became her first client, and their house became the bedrock of our sustenance. Economic recessions came and went, but my mother returned every Monday, Friday and occasional Sunday.
She spends her days in teal latex gloves, guiding a blue Hoover vacuum over what seems like miles of carpet. All the mirrors she’s cleaned could probably stack up to be a minor Philip Johnson skyscraper. This isn’t new for her. The vacuums and the gloves might be, but the work isn’t. In Moldova, her family grew gherkins and tomatoes. She spent countless hours kneeling in the dirt, growing her vegetables with the care that professors advise their protégés, with kindness and proactivity. Today, the fruits of her labor have been replaced with the suction of her vacuum.
The professors’ home was a telescope to how the other (more affluent) half lived. They were rarely ever home, so I saw their remnants: the lightly crinkled New York Times sprawled on the kitchen table, the overturned, half-opened books in their overflowing personal library, the TV consistently left on the National Geographic channel. I took these remnants as a celebrity-endorsed path to prosperity. I began to check out books from the school library and started reading the news religiously.
Their home was a sanctuary for my dreams. It was there I, as a glasses-wearing computer nerd, read about a mythical place called Silicon Valley in Bloomberg Businessweek magazines. It was there, as a son of immigrants, that I read about a young senator named Barack Obama, the child of an immigrant, aspiring to be the president of the United States. The life that I saw through their home showed me that an immigrant could succeed in America, too. Work could be done with one’s hands and with one’s mind. It impressed on me a sort of social capital that I knew could be used in America. The professors left me the elements to their own success, and all my life I’ve been trying to make my own reaction.
Ultimately, the suction of the vacuum is what sustains my family. The squeal of her vacuum reminds me why I have the opportunity to drive my squealing car to school. I am where I am today because my mom put an enormous amount of labor into the formula of the American Dream. It’s her blue Hoover vacuums that hold up the framework of my life. Someday, I hope my diploma can hold up the framework of hers.
‘Slowly, my mother’s gingham apron began to look more like metal armor.’
When it comes to service workers, as a society we completely disregard the manners instilled in us as toddlers.
For seventeen years, I have awoken to those workers, to clinking silverware rolled in cloth and porcelain plates removed from the oven in preparation for breakfast service. I memorized the geometry of place mats slid on metal trays, coffee cups turned downward, dirtied cloth napkins disposed on dining tables.
I knew never to wear pajamas outside in the public courtyard, and years of shushing from my mother informed me not to speak loudly in front of a guest room window. I grew up in the swaddled cacophony of morning chatter between tourists, professors, and videographers. I grew up conditioned in excessive politeness, fitted for making small talk with strangers.
I grew up in a bed and breakfast, in the sticky thickness of the hospitality industry. And for a very long time I hated it.
I was late to my own fifth birthday party in the park because a guest arrived five hours late without apology. Following a weeklong stay in which someone specially requested her room be cleaned twice a day, not once did she leave a tip for housekeeping. Small-business scammers came for a stop at the inn several times. Guests stained sheets, clogged toilets, locked themselves out of their rooms, and then demanded a discount.
There exists between service workers and their customers an inherent imbalance of power: We meet sneers with apologies. At the end of their meal, or stay, or drink, we let patrons determine how much effort their server put into their job.
For most of my life I believed my parents were intense masochists for devoting their existences to the least thankful business I know: the very business that taught me how to discern imbalances of power. Soon I recognized this stem of injustice in all sorts of everyday interactions. I came to understand how latent racism, sexism, classism and ableism structure our society — how tipping was only a synonym for “microaggression.”
I became passionate. Sometimes enraged. I stumbled upon nonprofits, foundations, and political campaigns. I canvassed for Senate candidates, phone-banked for grass-roots action groups, served as a board member for the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona, reviewed grant applications for nonprofits and organized events for the nearby children’s hospital.
I devoted my time to the raw grit of helping people, and in the process I fell irrevocably in love with a new type of service: public service. At the same time, I worked midnight Black Friday retail shifts and scraped vomit off linoleum. When I brought home my first W-2, I had never seen my parents so proud.
The truth, I recently learned, was that not all service is created equal. Seeing guests scream at my parents over a late airport taxi still sickens me even as I spend hours a week as a volunteer. But I was taught all work is noble, especially the work we do for others. Slowly, my mother’s gingham apron began to look more like metal armor. I learned how to worship my parents’ gift for attentive listening, easily hearing the things guests were incapable of asking for — not sugar with their tea, but somebody to talk with while they waited for a conference call. I envied their ability to wear the role of self-assured host like a second skin, capable of tolerating any type of cruelty with a smile.
Most of all, I admired my parents’ continuous trust in humanity to not abuse their help. I realized that learning to serve people looks a lot like learning to trust them.
‘My Dell hid my privilege and my Mac hid my financial need’
The most exciting part was the laptop.
My mom grabbed the thick envelope out of my hands and read off the amenities associated with the Tang Scholarship to Phillips Academy: full tuition for all four years, a free summer trip, $20 a week for me to spend on all the Cheetos and nail polish my heart desired, and finally, a free laptop.
I had never had a computer of my own before, and to me the prospect symbolized a world of new possibilities. I was the only student from my public middle school I knew to ever go to an elite boarding school, and it felt like being invited into a selective club. My first week at Andover, dazed by its glamour and newness, I fought my way to the financial aid office to pick up the laptop; I sent my mom a photo of me grinning and clutching the cardboard box. Back in my dorm room, I pulled out my prize, a heavy but functional Dell, and marveled at its sleek edges, its astonishing speed.
But the love story of my laptop came clamoring to a halt. In the library, as I stumbled to negotiate a space to fit in, I watched my friends each pull out a MacBook. Each was paper-thin and seemingly weightless. And mine, heavy enough to hurt my back and constantly sighing like a tired dog, was distinctly out of place. My laptop, which I had thought was my ticket to the elite world of Andover, actually gave me away as the outsider I was.
For a long time, this was the crux of my Andover experience: always an outsider. When I hung out with wealthier friends, I was disoriented by how different their lives were from mine. While they spent summers in Prague or Paris, I spent mine mining the constellation of thrift stores around New Haven. The gap between full-scholarship and full-pay felt insurmountable.
But I also felt like an outsider going to meetings for the full-scholarship affinity group. My parents attended college and grew up wealthier than I did, giving me cultural capital many of my full-scholarship friends never had access to. Moreover, I’m white and could afford occasional concert tickets or sparkly earrings. The laptop, carried by all full-scholarship students and coded with hidden meanings, pivoted my friends’ understandings of me. At home, I grew up middle class, then became the privileged prep school girl. But at Andover, suddenly, I was poor. Trying to reconcile these conflicting identities, I realized how complex and mutable class is. My class is connected to my parents’ income, but it’s also rooted in cultural knowledge and objects that are charged with greater meaning.
Which brings me back to the laptop: in the middle of my senior fall, my exhausted Dell broke and I couldn’t afford another. When I managed to borrow a slim Mac from my school, I felt the walls around me reorient. I hoped that now I wouldn’t have to think about the electric web of privilege and power every time I sent an email. Instead, I felt a new anxiety: I worried when I sat in the magnificent dining hall with my beautiful computer that I had lost an important part of my identity.
When I started at Andover, these constant dueling tensions felt like a trap: like I would never be comfortable anywhere. (The school sensed it too, and all full-financial aid students now receive MacBooks.) But maybe it’s the opposite of a trap. Maybe I’m culturally ambidextrous, as comfortable introducing a speaker on the stage of Andover’s century-old chapel as getting my nose pierced in a tattoo parlor in New Haven. My hyperawareness of how my Dell hid my privilege and how my Mac hid my financial need pushed me to be aware of what complicated stories were hiding behind my classmates’ seemingly simple facades. I am a full-scholarship student who benefits from cultural, socioeconomic and racial privilege: my story isn’t easy, but it’s still mine.
‘On one side of me, nature is a hobby. On the other, it is a way of life.’
I live on the edge.
I live at the place where trees curl into bushes to escape the wind. My home is the slippery place between the suburbs and stone houses and hogans.
I see the evolution of the telephone poles as I leave the reservation, having traveled with my mom for her work. The telephone poles on the reservation are crooked and tilted with wire clumsily strung between them. As I enter Flagstaff, my home, the poles begin to stand up straight. On one side of me, nature is a hobby. On the other, it is a way of life.
I live between a suburban land of plenty and a rural land of scarcity, where endless skies and pallid grass merge with apartment complexes and outdoor malls.
I balance on the edge of drought.
In the summers, when the rain doesn’t come, my father’s truck kicks dust into the air. A layer of earthy powder settles over the wildflowers and the grass. The stale ground sparks ferocious wildfires. Smoke soars into the air like a flare from a boat lost at sea. Everyone prays for rain. We fear that each drop of water is the last. We fear an invasion of the desert that stretches around Phoenix. We fear a heat that shrivels the trees, turns them to cactuses.
I exist at the epicenter of political discourse. Fierce liberalism swells against staunch conservatism in the hallways of my high school and on the streets of the downtown.
When the air is warm, the shops and restaurants open their doors. Professionals in suits mingle with musicians and artists sporting dreadlocks and ripped jeans. Together, they lament the drought, marvel at the brevity of the ski season.
I live on the edge of an urban and rural existence.
At my mother’s house, we ride bikes down paved streets. We play catch with the neighbor kids. We wage war with water guns.
At my father’s house, we haul water. We feed the horses and chickens. We chase the fox away from the chicken coop. We watch deer grazing, not ten yards away. We turn the soil in the garden. When the rain and the soil and the sun and the plants give birth to fruit, we eat it straight from the vines.
Traditional Navajo weaving and prints of Picasso’s paintings adorn the walls of both homes.
I straddle the innocence of my youth and the mystery of my adult life. That, too, is a precipice. I know I must leap into adulthood and leave the balancing act of Flagstaff life behind. Still, I belong at the place where opposites merge in a lumpy heap of beautiful contradictions. I crave the experiences only found at the edge. As I dive into adulthood, into college, I hope that I can find a new place that fosters diversity in all its forms, a new edge upon which I can learn to balance.
A version of this article appears in print on , on Page B4 of the New York edition with the headline: Four Essayists Who Stand Out. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe