Housework Is an Academic Issue. How to keep talented women scientists in the lab, where they belong

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Scientists are likely not to be interested in thinking about housework. Since René Descartes, Western culture has stringently separated matters of mind from body. Housework is, however, related to the life of the mind. Scientists wear clean clothes to the lab (at least from time to time), eat food procured and prepared by someone, and live in reasonably clean houses. This labor used to be done by stay-athome wives. The single-earner wage of the 1950s, for example, covered the cost of unpaid services that wives performed. Now, housework is often done by wives and partners who are also full-time professionals—and the women we discuss in this study are scientists at thirteen of the top research universities in the United States.

Findings from our study, based on data collected in 2006–07, show that despite women’s considerable gains in science in recent decades, female scientists do nearly twice as much housework as their male counterparts. Partnered women scientists at places like Stanford University do 54 percent of the cooking, cleaning, and laundry in their households; partnered men scientists do just 28 percent. This translates to more than ten hours a week for women— in addition to the nearly sixty hours a week they are already working as scientists—and to just five hours for men. When the call came from Stockholm early one October morning, Nobel Prize– winner Carol W. Greider was not working in her lab or sleeping. She was doing laundry. She is far from alone. Highly talented women scientists are investing substantial time in housework.

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