“Mowing the lawn, throwing the barbecue or cleaning the car, that’s him. Shopping, preparing food and washing clothes, that’s me… ” In Christelle’s family, 49 years old and mother of two teenagers, the weight of domestic chores weighs heavily on her shoulders. She is far from the only one in this situation. According to a study published in 2015 by INSEE, women perform nearly two-thirds of household chores (71%).
“They tend to perform routine and daily tasks, and men tend to do those they can fit into their schedule”, details Ariane Pailhé, research director at the National Institute of Demographic Studies (INED). This unequal distribution of domestic work is even more marked among the working classes.
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The hard core of the tasks reserved for women: cleaning, cooking, laundry maintenance, care and school monitoring of children. Men tend to invest more in gardening or DIY, when shopping and family leisure activities are among the most common activities. Eléonore, 44 years old and mother of two daughters aged 4 and 8, can be recognized perfectly in this painting. “I totally lose interest in DIY or the garden. For cooking and laundry, it’s the opposite. Anyway, if I let my husband do it, we would eat pasta or quiches every day… ”. It’s still better than his own father, who has never touched the kitchen. “The rare times he looked after us, he bought us ice cream as a meal”, she recalls.
The weight of social norms
Why, despite the quasi-generalization of women’s work, the rise of feminist discourse and the evolution of family models (fewer large families, for example), does the distribution of tasks in the couple change so slowly? ? For Ariane Pailhé, professional constraints partly explain the situation. “Women are more often at home or part-time than men”, she recalls. “But the weight of norms and stereotypes also remains particularly strong. It is evolving slowly but it is still very anchored ”, she notes.
In his work entitled The conjugal frame, analysis of the couple through their laundry (Armand Colin), sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann shows that this seemingly innocuous task says a lot about “Deep memorization of behavior” in domestic work. After a first publication in 1992, the author republished this work in 2014, regretting not to have changed a comma in the initial observation. “If we keep pace with the evolution of the distribution of tasks over the last twenty years, it would take decades, even centuries, to achieve equality, he writes. Even when ideas move, gestures follow with great difficulty… ”
And to mention, beyond manual tasks, the mental burden that generally weighs on women. “They have the family in their heads, thinking through the smallest details, at all times, even in the office”, he describes. What Christelle notices, who manages the family agenda alone. “You have to constantly think of everything, be in the anticipation and planning. That’s why I made the choice not to work full time. So as not to run constantly… ”
Same feeling for Eléonore, who does not hesitate to speak of exhaustion. “Even if my husband helps me, he is not involved in the organization of the house, she recounts. For meals, all the ideas come from me. For the girls, he does not know their weight or their size and would be quite unable to say what clothes they need… ”
David, a 33-year-old architect and father of a 2-year-old boy, is fully aware of this. “Sometimes I feel guilty for not having anticipated what my partner has already done, like scheduling our son’s medical appointments, for example. I really want to participate equally in domestic tasks, but in reality, we are more on 60% for her and 40% for me, even 70-30! “.
The impact of containment
During confinement, this gap even widened in many homes. “The first results of our surveys show that even when the two members of the couple were teleworking, the women did more than the men”, notes Ariane Pailhé, from INED. Christelle’s husband, an executive in the industry, thus spent his days locked in a room of the house, cut off from family contingencies. “He only came out to eat, she sighs. He has always fully defined himself by his work, devoting himself body and soul to it… ”.
Professor in the management department of Audencia Nantes, Sophie Hennekam asked 20 people (10 men and 10 women) to keep a containment logbook to measure the impact. “This period has reinforced stereotypical behaviors, with on the one hand men who telework while ignoring the rest and women forced to combine tasks, she confirms. But this configuration was not sustainable over time. In some men, this led to a realization that they could be something other than an ideal worker… ”
Eléonore thus saw her husband evolve after two months confined to the house. “He was able to observe everything I was doing on a daily basis, she greets. For my part, I also understood that I had to let go and stop going behind him when he makes the beds or tidies the dishwasher… ”
At Raphaël, a 40-year-old landscaper, the tasks are divided equally with his partner, at no cost to him. “I was used to helping my parents from a very early age, setting the table, peeling vegetables or cleaning a room, tells this father of two boys, as comfortable in the garden as in the laundry. I have always grown up with a concern for equality between people and therefore between the sexes. “ According to INED, in 2010, a quarter of men do more at home than their wives (compared to 17% in 1985). Birds that are not that rare!
Household chores, who does what?
In 2010, according to INSEE, women spent an average of 183 minutes per day (nearly 3 hours) on domestic tasks against 105 minutes for men.
Time spent on household chores was reduced by one hour for women between 1985 and 2010 (from 9 minutes for men).
According to an IFOP survey in 2019, 73% of French people say they do a little more or a lot more household chores than their spouse.
An ongoing investigation of INED with a cohort of children born in 2010 (called Elfe) still shows gaps between girls and boys in the performance of household chores.