Wednesday, April 7, 2010

April 7, 2010, “No Housework Day” at Stanford

Stanford University has declared April 7, 2010, “No Housework Day.” The Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research is hosting a panel discussion on “nagging housework” eating into job productivity, interfering with women’s career advancement, and reducing America’s global competitiveness in science.

Professor Londa Schiebinger, director of the institute, has studied the issue of housework. Despite women’s progress in recent decades, she found that women scientists do twice as much housework at their male counterparts: ten hours a week for women and five for men. The ratio applies to women in much of the academic and professional worlds.

Schiebinger proposes that employers provide benefits to support housework to all employees, both men and women, which would augment benefits for health care, day care, housing, and college tuition. Noting that Swedish firms provide housework benefits, Schiebinger suggests that this additional benefit would create better paid jobs for professional house cleaners, in turn reducing illegal immigration. Swedish firms also assist with gardening and cooking.

Schiebinger has left several questions unanswered. Would the benefit be a tax-free fringe? Does it make economic sense to provide the benefit to moderate-income secretarial and grounds maintenance staff? Is the benefit to be doubly provided for married couples? Would the budgets of employers require reductions of other benefits or lower increases in salaries? Would stay-at-home spouses be reimbursed for “nagging housework?”

In her essay that appeared in the Economist Debates, Schiebinger did not address the issue of taxation, especially of professional couples. On January 1, 2011, the current 35 percent top rate of tax will rise to 39.6 percent on couples earning more than $250,000. When effective in 2013, the Medicare tax will add another 0.9 percent to the top rate, and the 3.8 percent total Medicare levy will apply to capital income. A back of the envelope calculation suggests that Londa and her professional husband will pay an additional $15,000 or more in federal income taxes. At the average of ten hours a week of housework, $15,000 is sufficient to pay $30 per hour for household help for a year, which translates into $60,000 a year for house cleaners, no mean income. Perhaps the benefit should be means tested to exclude those earning more than $250,000, which would improve the distribution of income. If the U.S. needs more productive women scientists to compete with China, perhaps Schiebinger should oppose Obama’s tax-rate increases, which penalizes the efforts of female partnered scientists.

As for me, I’m scheduled for several hours of housework while TBW (the beautiful wife) takes the day off.

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