It’s hard at times choosing a topic for this column from the multitude of thoughts floating without anchor in my mind. Fortunately, I have friends who help.
This week, Faye of the Forest emerged from the dense woods behind our house and settled on the deck rail. In her small hands she held pieces of paper.
“Have you seen this report, prepared by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, on how Americans use their time?” she asked. “It confirms how the lives of men and women are still very different.”
“Did you expect something else?” I asked.
“Look,” Faye said, pushing the papers under my nose. “On an average day, nearly 83 percent of women, but only 64 percent of men, spend time engaged in household activities. Plus, when women engage in household activities, they average two hours and 35 minutes per day while men average two hours and one minute.”
“What’s surprising about that?” I said.
“Just look at what’s included in household activities,” Faye answered.
“So?” I said. “Household activities include food preparation and cleanup in which, on an average day, 65 percent of women but only 38 percent of men participate. When they perform these chores, women average one hour, seven minutes per day compared to 47 minutes for men. Should it be otherwise?
“That’s no more surprising,” I said, “than finding that men are more likely than women to be involved in lawn and garden care and that men average two hours and 21 minutes, while women average only one hour and 34 minutes when they do this kind of work. We guys are out there in the hot sun mowing that lawn while you’re in the air-conditioned kitchen slaving over a hot microwave.”
“Oh, funny,” Faye mocked. “Maybe your involvement, when it takes place, shows gross ineptitude. See here,” she said pointing to the report, “women are more likely to care for animals and pets, but men spend more time on that activity. Is that because men have alligators to care for?”
“Snide doesn’t win the day,” I suggested.
“How about vehicle maintenance?” she continued. “Men are four times as likely as women to engage in this activity and spend more than twice as much time doing it. Is this because it’s some macho hobby, or because men haven’t the good sense to take their cars in for professional service?”
“What about ‘grooming’?” I asked. “The report shows that, on an average day, 82 percent of women engage in fixing themselves up and average 57 minutes doing it.”
Faye’s laugh bordered on the raucous.
“Right,” she said, “and on that average day, nearly 77 percent of men report grooming themselves for an average of 44 minutes. Doesn’t seem to me they get much in the way of results.”
“Are you trying to start something here?” I asked.
“Absolutely,” she answered, “There are substantial differences in the lives of men and women despite the malarkey about equality. For example, for a variety of reasons, on an average day, you’ll find 51 percent of men but only 39 percent of women working for pay. On days when they work, men average seven hours, 57 minutes, while working women average seven hours, four minutes.”
“Fifty-three minutes? That’s making something of nothing,” I said.
“Not so,” she said. “Women are paid less than men and they miss out on nearly an hour’s worth of work. That deficit shows up in the checking account quickly.”
“But,” I objected, “women spend 11 fewer minutes commuting to work than do men. That’s all to the good.”
“Maybe,” she said, “but I have to get back to the treehouse. Women’s work you know. See ya.”
Then she grabbed a vine and swung back into the forest. At least I had a column.•
Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU’s Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.