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Last Updated: Friday, 23 February 2007, 14:20 GMT
Single women 'do less housework'
By Clare Davidson
Business reporter, BBC News

Woman holding iron
Women do more housework than men even when both work
Living alone can be tediously predictable, especially as far as housework is concerned.

If you haven't cleaned the bath, then the chance of someone else unexpectedly doing so is close to nil.

But if you assume that moving in with a loved one will improve this, then think again - especially if you are female.

A new study has found that employed women living with their employed partner actually spend more time doing housework than single women.

Single women in Britain spend 10 hours on average a week
Single men in Britain spend 7 hours on average a week
Women living in a couple spend 15 hours on chores
Men living in a couple spend 5 hours on chores
Source: Time Allocation within the Family, Helen Couprie

The men, on the other hand see the hours they commit to housework decline once they begin living as a couple.

The findings come from analysis by labour economist Helene Couprie of Toulouse University.

Her research, based on data from the British Household Panel Survey looked at working women - single or living with a partner, both with and without children.

Much as we might like to legislate against men for not doing housework, it is not an option
Ruth Lister, social policy professor, Loughborough University

And by examining information on more than 2,000 people, she concluded that on average, an employed woman does 15 hours a week of housework when she lives with her employed partner, up from 10 hours when single.

Lazy men

Meanwhile the men, who do seven hours while living alone, do only five when they co-habit.

The findings are partly, Ms Couprie suggests, due to influences that people have grown up with - where traditionally women have taken on the lion's share of domestic tasks.

She says that as long as children see their parents stick to certain tasks, such trends become hard to change.

Ultimately, she adds, "it is the work of social evolution".

And evolution takes time, she insists - perhaps another 20 years for the situation to really change in terms of the division of labour.

Man Yee Kan, a sociologist at Oxford University's Time Use Research Unit says the reason men are doing a greater proportion than they did, is largely because women spend more time in paid work, therefore a smaller proportion of time doing housework.

Meanwhile Ruth Lister, a professor in social policy at Loughborough University says that whatever the reason for the stark differences, things must change.

"As much as we might like to legislate against men for not doing housework, it is not an option," laughs Ms Lister, adding that cultural expectations die hard.

Equality at work

Women in firms

Ms Couprie says that her findings of inequality in the home reflected those in the workplace.

While the wage gap is shrinking, it is still pronounced.

In 1970, women earned on average 29% less per hour than men.

According to the Equal Opportunities Commission, in 2006 the differential was 17%.

And women are still largely absent in the top jobs at UK firms, the commission recently found. Only 10% of directors of the UK's top FTSE 100 firms were female.

Ms Couprie concludes that that gender inequalities at home have a "significant influence on gender inequalities in the workplace - and vice versa", reinforcing other findings on the topic.

"The quickest way to improve the situation at home would be for women to gain equality at work in terms of pay and opportunities," she says.

"We need to get more women into the same types of jobs as men, as well as get pay parity between sectors," says Ms Couprie.

While Ms Couprie's focus is on economic measures, she admits equal pay - though crucial - is only one step to ensure a fairer division of labour at home.

"Cultural changes are far harder to overcome than the pure economic wage gap," she says.

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