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Surprise, Surprise: Women Executives Still Stuck With Housework

More men than ever do housework and care for kids. But when comparing household behavior of top male and female executives, a German study shows stark differences between the sexes remain.

Sweeping the streets
Sweeping the streets
Thomas Öchsner

BERLIN "That little bit of housework can be done quite easily," says my husband. "That little bit of housework can't be that bad," he says.

Those are the lyrics to a song once performed by German actress Johanna Koczian. Four decades later, there are more men who not only mow the lawn but also do the laundry, the dishes or clean. Nonetheless, the traditional division of labor is still in evidence in German households, even when women work in top executive positions.

Top female managers still perform at least an hour of housework on a daily basis, according to a study by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW). But the same is true for only half the men in executive roles who participated in this survey. Even on the weekends, women in executive roles in Germany's private sector are more likely to swing a broom, wield an iron or squeeze a detergent bottle than men in the same positions.

These women are typically highly educated and have the same workload as male executives. But even so, there are huge differences between women and men in managerial positions. According to the DIW study, women in managerial positions work on average 41 hours per week whereas men work for around 46 hours. Men, as opposed to their female counterparts, will often work more than 50 or 60 hours per week. But despite this, both sexes agree on one thing: They would like to work seven to eight hours less per week.

"Long working hours are perfectly normal but not very popular," says Anne Busch-Heizmann, one of the DIW researchers.

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Finishing fourth — Photo: Royalty-Free/Corbis/Meridican

The researchers analyzed the results of the socio-economic survey, which was based on interviews with 30,000 people in 15,000 households in 2013. From this group, they isolated 1,550 people working in executive roles, 445 of whom were women. The results demonstrate that men and women demonstrate considerably different behavior where housework is concerned.

Women in executive roles, for example, very rarely have children who are younger than 3 years old. Only 12% of women in the survey did. But a quarter of all men in executive roles had children below that age. "This indicates that many men in executive roles have another person, often their partner, waiting in the wings, who manages their private life for them," the study concludes. "Such support for women through their partner does not seem to be the case."

Female executives spend twice as much time as executive men taking care of their children during working days. This twofold burden apparently affects sleeping patterns too. More women in executive roles report sleeping difficulties (29%) than men (19%). But both sexes, when working in highly responsible jobs, find it very difficult to switch off. "Four out of 10 executives found that they were still contemplating work-related issues during the evening," the authors of the study report.

The gap in pay is also notable. In 2013, the average monthly wage of a male executive was 5,195 euros. But female executives earned just 4,142 euros per month. The gap in pay has closed significantly since 2000, but men are still often rewarded with more of a share in profits or with bonuses.

But on a broader positive note, the share of women working in executive positions in Germany has grown from 22% in 2000 to 29% in 2013. Says DIW's director, "We are making progress, albeit relatively slowly."

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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