Study: Housework benefit would help job productivity

April 8, 2010 6:33:37 AM PDT
Most employees are familiar with workplace perks, like medical and childcare benefits, but what if you were offered benefits to cover the cost of your personal housecleaning? A new Stanford research study says this is the solution for fostering a more satisfied, competitive U.S. workforce.

After Helen Stacy tidies up her kitchen, she's off to her job at Stanford University.

"We all work long hours at Stanford because we all love our job," said Stanford professor Helen Stacy.

She pulls an average 60 hour work week as part of Stanford Law School's faculty.

"It simply wouldn't be feasible for me to do all of that, and to do the housework that I need to have done to make my household function," said Stacy.

So her solution for managing her household and her profession successfully is to outsource some of the housework to a cleaning company. It's an economic calculation.

"If you have a highly-trained woman, meaning that on a dollar-for-dollar basis, her time is best spent in the workplace," said Stacy.

Londa Schiebinger is a professor and director of Stanford's Clayman Institute for Gender Research, co-authored a new study called "Housework Is an Academic Issue", which examined the division of housework between dual-career couples. After surveying thousands of faculty at 13 top U.S. research universities. The study found an average of 19 hours a week is spent on basic household chores, like cooking, cleaning and laundry. Women do 54 percent of the work, compared to men's 28 percent.

While this study looks specifically at academic scientists, Schiebinger says the traditional division of women doing a disproportionate share of housework and childcare affects all professions.

"Our recommendation in this study is that employers offer a benefit for housework. So it would be like healthcare benefits, retirement benefits, daycare benefits," said Schiebinger.

The expectation is that if employers offered all workers housework benefits, this perk would increase job productivity. The study also suggests that creating a benefit to offset cleaning costs, would in turn help professionalize the housecleaning industry, improving those workers wages and standards -- similar to how childcare has been professionalized over the decades.

"If you ask -- what will the U.S. economy look like in 20 years, I think this will be, I think everyone will be giving benefits for housework," said Schiebinger.

But given the recent economic downturn, it may take some time for companies to take this leap. The idea of housework benefits is not a new one; some companies in Sweden already offer it, and the Swedish government has relaxed taxes on the housecleaning benefit -- a move that supporters say improves the well-being of society in the long-run.


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