Around the House — Going the Extra Mile?

December 7, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Here’s this week’s Car Talk puzzler.
A woman and her husband frequently go walking together. On one particular day, however, they walked side by side, one never getting ahead of the other. They walked for an hour. At the end of the hour, the woman says, "That felt good. I think I walked four miles. The husband responds, “Oh, I walked much farther than that. I’m sure I walked five or six.”

How could that be?
I think I know the answer Tom and Ray are looking for. But the social survey answer is this: Husbands and wives often differ in their perceptions of how much the husband does. Men think they go further in some areas than their wives think the guys go.

The GSS asks husbands and wives how much of the housework they do and how much their spouse does. Here are some tables based on the 1972-2006 GSS.

(Click on the graph for a larger view.)

I realize this is just a quick-and-dirty bit of research. But I’ll clean it up. Honest


Bob S. said...

We have this discussion around the house often.

I've come to realize that each spouse has a different definition of "house work".

In our case, I do small clean up chores often -- almost daily.
Dishes, picking up misplaced items, wiping down counters, laundry, etc.

My wife tends to do 'house work' as big chores. Scrub the floors, dust the entire house, clean whole rooms, etc

Guess who does more "house work"?

We both do.

Jay Livingston said...

You're not alone in "we both do." When surveys ask husbands and wives separately what percent of the housework they do, the total always adds up to more than 100%.

Bob S. said...

So Jay, where is the problem?

Both spouses can't do the majority of the housework.

Does this point out the limitations of surveys and polling?

Seldom are their specific definitions given, agreement on meanings, etc.

Or is this a problem of communication between spouses?

Jay Livingston said...

Bob, You're absolutely right that this points out that you have to be careful in interpreting some survey answers. You have to remember that what you're getting is the person's perception rather than reality itself. What people say they do is not always identical to what they do.

With the housework question, two people have conflicting perceptions. And I supposed itcould be that the husband's is closer to reality, though I doubt it. If you really want to know who does what, you should have at least one other source of data.

Anonymous said...

I had a post on a related issue last year noting that in our ancient Roman sources, the superior party in a relationship always uses language of partnership whereas the inferior party uses language of deference. Since our historical sources are biased towards the superior parties, this creates a systematic bias in our literary evidence of the classical world comparable to trying to understand housework based only on male survey respondents.