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Closing the Pandemic Gender Gap between Men and Women in Marriage

coronavirus fairness roles May 21, 2020


Last week, the New York Times reported a stunning statistic in an article entitled, "Nearly Half of Men Say They Do most of the Home Schooling. 3 Percent of Women Agree." According to a recent survey, 45 percent of men say they are spending more time homeschooling or helping their children with distance-learning during this crisis. 80 percent of women, by contrast, say they are spending more time homeschooling or helping their children. And, as the article's headline suggests, only 3 percent of women feel that their husband is doing more.

We talk a lot these days about living in a society divided by two radically different views of reality. But these statistics show that, even within our own house, we're living in different worlds. In one of these worlds, the gender gap has all but fallen away. In the other, this crisis has amplified extreme inequalities in the amount men and women contribute to childcare and household labor.

Why this disconnect? Why are men and women living in different worlds of perception? Part of this problem can be explained by research showing that both women and men overestimate their contributions and underestimate their partner's.  Psychologists call this “availability bias.“ Put simply, the problem is that you have a complete understanding of every plate you loaded into the dishwasher and every online math lesson you did with your child. But, when it comes to your partner's contributions, things get fuzzy. You may miss many of their most significant contributions. To make things worse, the research also shows that we consistently overestimate our own contributions.

The upshot is that both women and men live in a state of mild delusion when it comes to the actual balance of contribution in marriage.

So what are we to do?



1. The special responsibility of men.

Both women and men tend to overestimate their own contributions and underestimate those of their partner. And yet, another theme in the time-survey research on household division of labor is that, statistically speaking, women do more. They do more childcare and housework. They also carry more of the burden of “emotional labor." So, if you are a man in a heterosexual relationship reading this article, it’s worth seeing your marriage in the context of these larger gender dynamics. It’s worth recognizing that you have a special responsibility to contribute even more than what feels fair. If you are a woman reading this article, noticing and appreciating your partner's stretch toward greater contribution goes a long way. 


2. Pay attention to your partner's world.

The second tool for bridging the gap between these competing perceptions of reality is to pay closer attention to your partner's contributions. Many of us have a tendency to do the opposite. We tend to minimize our partner's contributions or scan their behavior for moments when they fell short, did something wrong, or dropped the ball. See what happens when you reverse this habit. See what happens when you begin scanning your partner's actions for the things they did do, the contributions they did make, or the time they did spend helping out the kids. You still may not think things are fair. But that's not the point. The point is to stretch toward one another, helping close the gap between your perceptions of contribution in marriage so you can work together as a team. Because, let's face it, in this time of crisis, you are likely both doing more than before.

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