NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 7, 2009

Since the beginning of the 20th century, hours involved in homemaking have not changed much, according to researcher Valerie Ramey.  Using new estimates of time in home production for 1900-65, she investigates the amount of time spent on "homemaking," which includes food preparation, house cleaning, care of family members (and non-household members, such as elderly parents), shopping, and managing the household.  When these estimates are combined with government data and other nationally representative estimates for the years since 1965:

  • They suggest that women between the ages of 18 and 64 spent 18 fewer hours on housework each week in 2005 than they did in 1900.
  • However, men aged 18-to-64 spent about 13 more hours on housework in 2005 than in 1900.
  • While electricity, running water, and washing machines probably increased household output and reduced the drudgery of household tasks, they had little impact on the time spent on housework before 1965.
  • After 1965, however, time spent by housewives fell by another seven hours, and virtually none of the additional decline could be explained by changes in household composition.

Ramey concludes that from 1900 to 1965, time spent by (non-employed) housewives in homemaking fell by about six hours per week, and "all of that change could be accounted for by the number and age of children and the increased education levels of housewives."

However, Ramey combines estimates of time spent by children and older people with the time spent by those aged 18 to 64 to form a more complete picture of total time spent in home production.  Once changes in household size are taken into account, it appears that the combined hours devoted to home production by all household members have remained relatively constant since 1900.

Source:   Linda Gorman, "Hours Spent in Homemaking Have Changed Little This Century," NBER Digest, October 2008, and Valerie Ramey, "Time Spent in Home Production in the 20th Century: New Estimates from Old Data," National Bureau of Economic Research, May 2008.

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