Ottawa Citizen

Friday 12 March 1999

Here's the dirt on housework:

We're not doing much of it

Pat Bell
The Ottawa Citizen

If your windows are looking extra grungy, last week's laundry hasn't been folded yet and your dustballs are reproducing, relax. You're part of a trend.

It seems, in the United States at least, a lot less housework is getting done these days.

According to the March issue of Consumer Reports, U.S. women are spending, on average, 15.6 hours a week on housework. That's almost four hours less than a decade ago. It's 11 hours less than in 1965, when women racked up an average of 27 hours a week scrubbing, vacuuming, dusting and doing laundry.

The slowdown in cleaning efforts is reflected at the cash register. It's effectively put the brakes on sales of cleaning products, the magazine reports.

Consumers spent virtually the same amount on soap and detergent in 1997 as they did in 1992, even though the U.S. population grew almost five per cent in that time period.

Spending for window cleaners and rug cleaners grew more slowly than in earlier decades and buyers actually cut back on their purchases of vacuum-cleaner bags and oven cleaners.

As a result, manufacturers are rushing to develop household products that cut time and effort or that mask the consequences of less frequent cleanups. Sales of air fresheners are flourishing.

The report is based on findings from the Americans' Use of Time Project, a once-a-decade survey based on 10,000 interviews. It's a look at a cross-section of society "to quantify what a day in America is like," says John P. Robinson, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, who has been the project's director since it began more than 30 years ago.

The survey found that men are devoting twice as much time to housework as they did in 1965. They used to spend 4.6 hours a week at it, and that moved up to 9.6 hours by 1985. But it's down slightly now, to 9.5 hours a week.

These figures are averages. And it seems there is a growing gap in cleanliness. Although women generally put in 15.6 hours a week on housework, there are still "top housecleaners" -- married women with children and no job outside the the home -- who continue to devote 25.5 hours a week to housework.

That means there are others who are doing less than the average.

Copyright 1999 Ottawa Citizen