Editor’s Note: Who Works the Second Shift at Your House?

My wife earns more money than I do.
For many men, that would be a humiliating admission, but I’m proud of that fact and of her. And, though most of the credit for her success belongs to her hard work and intelligence, I will claim a small slice of the credit in a moment.

Senior writer Beverly Creamer’s story on page 39 reports on successful local couples who collaborate on housework, raising children and other shared responsibilities so both advance in their careers. But the emphasis in the story is on the women, because, for all the advances made in the past four decades, women still do the vast majority of “the second shift.”

You know the truth of the old saying, “Behind every successful man is a good woman.” She was (and sometimes still is) the one at home, caring for the children, cooking meals, cleaning the house, doing laundry and providing moral support and refuge while her husband climbs to the top.

The telling feminist response to that line was, “Behind every successful woman is herself.” That rejoinder was true, too, because women had to succeed in their careers without such wives at home. They usually did because they weren’t married or didn’t have children or, if they had kids, they also had helpful grandparents or were affluent enough to buy a strong support system.

Today, some women have collaborative spouses who make career success more possible, and Bev profiles some of those couples. But, the truth is, these couples are not common enough. The average American adult woman spends 22.4 hours a week on household activities, shopping and caring for household members, according to the 2012 American Time Use Survey compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For men, it’s 13.2 hours. Sorry, guys, but mowing the grass, fixing cars and light bulbs, and playing with the kids on Sundays does not create an equal division of labor when both of you work full time.

The average American woman spends 22.4 hours a week on household activities, shopping and caring for household members, versus 13.3 hours for men.

Berkeley professor Arlie Russell Hochschild’s book “The Second Shift,” updated again in 2012, found that truly equalitarian American couples were uncommon, but they tended to be middle class or affluent.

Affluence? Is that cause or effect? If you support your wife, will your household income go up? Or is an egalitarian marriage more possible if you can afford a housekeeper, gardener and quality childcare? Sorry, but I think the nuances of each relationship make it impossible to give broad answers to those questions.

However, I can give you my personal case: After our son was born, I worked as the night city editor at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin so my wife and I could split childcare while we both worked full time. It was a crazy, exhausting few years before he went to preschool, grandparents came to help and life got a little easier. The grandparents, sadly, have long passed on, but, all through our marriage, we have shared the care of our two children, cooking, cleanup, laundry, bill paying and all the other burdens and delights of family life. We supported each other. And we both have well-paying jobs. Coincidence?

For most of those years, I earned more than my wife, but, last year, she earned a promotion and pulled ahead of me. Like I said, she gets most of the credit for her success. But because I did my share of the second shift, I will take some personal pride in her achievements.

Categories: Opinion