Iowa State University
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News Service

News Service:

Annette Hacker, director,
(515) 294-3720

Office: (515) 294-4777

05-31-07

Contacts:

Wallace Huffman, Economics and Agriculture, 515-294-6359, whuffman@iastate.edu

Mike Ferlazzo, News Service, (515) 294-8986, ferlazzo@iastate.edu

Spouses working equally hard but need more vacation, says ISU economist

AMES, Iowa -- Married couples know this debate. Who works harder and is more underappreciated -- the husband or wife?

According to an Iowa State University economist's analysis of 2005 U.S. Department of Labor statistics, spouses work similar long hours -- with married men working an average of 54.5 hours per week and women working 51.6. Despite changing gender roles in the workplace, ISU Distinguished Professor of Agriculture and Professor of Economics Wallace Huffman says the data indicates that men are still spending most of that time (40.2 hours) in the labor market, with the rest spent on housework. By contrast, women still spend nearly 35 hours a week on housework, with the remainder spent working outside the home.

Spouses have reasons to be tired, too. Huffman found that married people work between six and 10 hours more per week than their unmarried counterparts.

Americans need longer vacations

But since every group is working at least 45 hours per week, he also urges all Americans to take longer vacations this summer to substantially improve upon their productivity.

"Productivity could increase by up to 60 percent for employees in the month or two following a good vacation -- meaning a week or two long," said Huffman. "A vacation of this length is an important investment for increasing future labor productivity; and you can at the same time have some fun. It is important for people to take their vacations. Taking a day or two isn't as beneficial because it takes time to unwind."

Huffman both studies and teaches labor economics and just completed a research paper on the changing structure of U.S. household production over the post-World War II period. In it, he considered such issues as the amount of work done in the labor market and at home, separation of labor among married couples, and men's and women's leisure time and its impact on productivity.

Huffman's analysis indicates that women still work hard around the house. But he says that recent six-figure salary estimates for stay-at-home moms (by salary.com and Woman's Day magazine) are substantially inflated.

"Much of the work they do is similar to that of domestic help," said Huffman. "Those workers earn about $10 per hour, which implies an annual salary for full-time work of about $20,000.

"It is true that mothers are important people in making decisions on medical care around the house -- tasks that would be more in line with work by nurses," he said. "But $40,000 would be a good wage for a nurse. So I think $138,000 per year (the salary.com estimate) is unnaturally high, particularly since $32,000 is the average annual salary for all women working in the labor market, who average working 36 hours per week."

Married couples shoulder labor burden

Labor Department data show that married women work nearly seven hours longer per week than unmarried women (51.6 to 45.7 hours per week) -- with married men working nearly 10 hours more (54.5 to 44.9). Huffman says that reflects increased responsibilities married couples often face as homeowners, parents and career professionals.

But being married has its perks, too. Huffman said that that according to research released within the last two years by the National Opinion Research Center, married women have better outcomes in terms of less abuse, greater financial security and a general sense of happiness.

He also found that spouses actually compliment each other with their work around the house. In spite of fading sexual stereotypes, men still do more of the yard work and repairs, while women still do more cooking and cleaning. Today's advanced technology has also assisted both in the amount of time spent on each task by comparison to past generations.

Yet modern technology doesn't always allow families to truly enjoy their free time -- particularly on vacation. Huffman said that it's important for workers to minimize use of information technology while they're away because unwinding requires disconnecting from the demands of the office through cell phones, laptops and PDAs.

He also agrees that Americans don't take enough vacation time.

"In Europe, a large percentage of workers take the month of August off," he said. "For the workers in the U.S., there's no such phenomenon, except for possibly the week around Christmas."

Huffman submitted his paper for publication in the "Journal of Population Economics," a professional journal.

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Huffman

Wallace Huffman

Quick look

ISU Distinguished Professor of Agriculture and Professor of Economics Wallace Huffman just completed a research paper on the changing structure of U.S. household production over the post-World War II period. In it, he considered such issues as the amount of work done in the labor market and at home, separation of labor among married couples, and men's and women's leisure time and its impact on productivity.

Quote

"Productivity could increase by up to 60 percent for employees in the month or two following a good vacation -- meaning a week or two long. A vacation of this length is an important investment for increasing future labor productivity; and you can at the same time have some fun. It is important for people to take their vacations. Taking a day or two isn't as beneficial because it takes time to unwind."

Wallace Huffman