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Both Men and Women Do
the Work of the World
By Glenn Sacks

 

During UCLA's International Women's Day celebration earlier this month, women's studies Professor Christine Littleton said, "It is women who do the work of the world" ("Students celebrate International Women's Day," Daily Bruin, News, March 12). To judge who does "the work of the world" in a world of over 6 billion people is a gargantuan task (though Littleton doesn't seem much burdened by it), but let's begin by asking two questions:

1) Who works the most hours (inside or outside the home) in the average family unit worldwide?

2) Who does the most demanding and dangerous work?

The second question is much easier to answer than the first, so let's start there. According to the International Labor Organization, an estimated 1.1 million workers are killed in industrial accidents each year, exceeding the number killed from road accidents, war, violence and AIDS.

These accidents occur primarily in mining, logging, heavy agricultural labor, construction, fishing, heavy manufacturing and various other overwhelmingly male jobs. The ILO estimates that some 600,000 lives would be saved every year if available safety practices were used. The ILO also estimates that there are an approximately 250 million occupational accidents and 160 million occupational diseases each year. The ILO doesn't keep figures by gender, but in countries like England, Australia, Canada, and South Africa, where such figures are available, the fatalities and serious injuries are usually over 90 percent male.

The gender breakdowns in the U.S. are little different. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were over 125 million workplace injuries in the United States between 1976 and 1999. Nearly 100,000 workers died from job-related injuries between 1980 and 1994 with 95 percent of them male. Of the 25 most dangerous jobs listed by the U.S. Department of Labor, all of them are at least 90 percent and are often 100 percent male. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, more than three million workers a year are treated in hospital emergency rooms for occupational injuries and nearly 50 American workers are injured every minute of the 40-hour work week. On average, every day 17 die, 16 of them male. 

So there is no doubt that the most dangerous and demanding jobs are done by men, in most if not virtually every society, and that men shoulder the burden of dangerous labor in the U.S. Let's consider the other question: Who works the most hours (inside or outside the home) in the average family unit worldwide? It's a much harder question to answer but, as best as can be told, the average man is doing at least as much as the average woman is.

Feminists generally base their claim that women do most of "the work" on the United Nations 1995 "Human Development Report," which was presented at the U.N. International Women's Conference in Beijing in 1995. The report claimed that women do more work than men. It was, of course, reported uncritically by the U.S. media with headlines such as "It's Official: Women Do Work Harder" and "A Woman's Work is Never Done."

But, as U.N. official Terry McKinley said in February 1996, the U.N. misrepresented the study in several important ways. For one, the information provided by the U.N. to the press only applied to countries where women were found to work more hours than men; the countries where men were found to work more hours than women were deliberately excluded (Warren Farrell, Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say) .

Moreover, when the data provided by researchers in some countries (including the U.S.) did not fit the U.N.'s intention to show that women "do more," researchers were asked (in a private communication) to amend their studies. Researchers were asked to include women's voluntary community work as well as hobbies in order to increase women's perceived workload. Researchers were not asked to include these items (or any others) in men's labor. As a study of men and women's labor, the U.N. findings are worthless.

But, even if one could possibly do an effective study on how many hours the average man and woman worked (inside and outside the home, worldwide), a finding that women work more hours would not mean that women work "harder" or "more" because the more difficult and dangerous nature of men's work would not be accounted for.

While judging the labors of the world (most of it impoverished) is practically impossible, it is not nearly as hard to judge the labor in an advanced, industrial nation. In the United States, studies have shown that women clearly are not working more or harder than men.

For example, the U.N.'s survey on the United States showed that American men work three more hours a week on average than American women. Other neutral researchers have come up with similar conclusions, including the Journal of Economic Literature, which reports that the average man works five hours more, and the University of Michigan's Survey Research Center  which puts the disparity at 3.4 more male hours per week.

Feminist surveys, such as the famous Second Shift by Arlie Hochschild, get "women do more" figures by a variety of disreputable gimmicks, recounted in great detail in Farrell's Women Can't Hear What Men Don' Say. Remember, too, that all of these surveys (the serious ones and the feminist advocacy ones) count only hours. A man doing eight hours of dangerous construction work in the 100-degree heat is credited with no more than a woman who works in an air-conditioned office or who, in the comfort and safety of her own home (and without a supervisor breathing down her neck), cooks breakfast, takes the kids to school, packs her husband's lunch and folds the laundry while chatting on the phone. 

Feminists routinely focus blame on men, but the enemy of most of the women of the world is not the man who works hard to feed his wife and kids but the grinding poverty that wreaks devastation on everybody: men, women, and children.

 

 

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