Canadian men have been more inclined to pick up a mop or cook dinner during the past 10 years. But when it comes to housework as an extreme sport, women are more than twice as likely to clock long hours than men are, according to new census data.
On the surface, all Canadians seem keen to keep a tidy home. In 2006, men and women report doing "some" unpaid housework at similar rates: 87.9 per cent of men and 92.6 per cent of women.
But while 19.8 per cent of women say they're spending 30 or more hours on housework, only 7.7 per cent of men report doing the same.
"Women and men are closer now than they used to be, however this is just participation, not hours," said Danielle Zietsma, a senior economist at Statistics Canada.
Still, the good news for women is that fewer of them are toiling for 30 hours or more; in 1996 the number was almost 5 percentage points higher. As they did on a number of housework measures, men only bumped up their rate slightly, but experts say there is a trend emerging.
Men and women currently work about the same number of total hours, with women doing more unpaid work and men doing more paid work, said University of Guelph sociologist Kerry Daly. But eventually we'll see a "a pattern of convergence emerging over time," in which men and women are sharing housework equally, he says.
For now, many married couples remain case studies in women's tendency to do more work in the home. While Thea Mitchell-Shepherd and her husband have a fairly relaxed approach to housework, the Toronto makeup artist and sales representative says she tends to do about 65 per cent of it, including the grocery shopping and cooking.
"It can be a bit exhausting," she said. "You don't aim to be traditional, it just ends up that way."
With two teenagers and one toddler in the house, the 38-year-old also keeps homework, play dates and birthday parties on her mental hard drive. While there was a section for "planning" on the 2006 census, Dr. Daly said many women underestimate the number of hours they spend on this kind of work.
"One of the kinds of work women continue to predominate in is the invisible scheduling, orchestration, planning work," he said. "That's very hard to measure because it usually goes on as multitasking, concurrent with more tangible activities."
Still, women can also have a deeply imbedded ambivalence about letting go, said Dr. Daly, who specializes in the study of fatherhood. "The reality is when it comes to judgments about how you're taking care of your kids or how clean your house is, women are more likely to be held accountable if things aren't up to a certain standard."
By the same token, he said, men may feel like they can't live up to those standards. "Part of the ambivalence of men is, 'If I do take this on I'm subject to criticism of not doing good enough.' "
Instead of seeing it as lowering standards, couples may have to get creative.
"Maybe it's a different standard," he says. "Maybe it's not dirtier, but maybe it's a different arrangement or schedule or way of doing it."
Still, there are many households that have already crossed the gender divide. Toronto TV host, psychotherapist and new mother Hina Khan gleefully reports of the benefits of being married to a chef, saying that in all she contributes to less than half of the housework load. He does all the grocery shopping and cooking.
"He leaves no dishes for me - not even pots and pans," says Ms. Khan, 38.***
By the numbers
Percentage of Canadian men participating in unpaid housework in 2006
Percentage of Canadian women doing unpaid housework
Percentage of Canadian women spending 30 or more unpaid hours performing housework
Percentage of Canadian men spending 30 or more unpaid hours performing housework