It seems to me that, as a professional blogger, it's pretty likely that were I to have children I would have a more flexible work schedule than my wife and wind up shouldering more responsibility than is customary for most men. As such, I read Lisa Belkin's article on couples who try to share parenting duty equally (the piece also presents the staggering inequities in current household burdens) with a great deal of interest.

Reading it, one thing that comes through is that equality isn't necessarily a very practical arrangement. A lot of things in life reward the division of labor, and the neotraditional arrangement in which one partner works to maximize career success and does domestic obligations on the side while the other partner treats domestic obligations as the fixed point and earns money around that commitment is in many ways a more efficient way of organizing a household than is strict equality. But of course thanks to entrenched tradition and social expectations, we all know that the "one partner" is a man and the "other partner" is a woman.

One could, however, easily imagine an alternate reality in which the society as a whole featured more-or-less equal sharing of domestic tasks between men and women without it being the case that most individual couples share things precisely equally. And, indeed, according to Belkin "who does what, lesbian couples say, is instead determined by personality and logistics" rather than either pre-existing gender stereotypes (obviously a non-starter) or by a 50-50 rule. Still, the evidence from gay and lesbian couples does suggest that despite some specialization, you tend to get closer to 50-50 than heterosexuals do:

Lesbian couples also have a more equal division of housework. Rothblum found that it is only heterosexual mothers who do the lion’s share of housework for the family each week — between 11 and 20 hours for her survey respondents. Lesbian parents, gay parents and heterosexual fathers all look the same on paper when it comes to cooking and cleaning — they all report doing between 6 and 10 hours a week.

Among other things, that result suggests a certain amount of "leveling down" in terms of housecleaning in gay couples with both partners acting more like a heterosexual man than like a straight woman. Meanwhile, as you see throughout the piece it's difficult for any one couple to decide it's going to unilaterally change how the world works -- part-time work is hard to come by in a lot of fields. This is, presumably, something that will have to change if more couples try to share their responsibilities more equitably. In general, it seems that everyone who has kids would have an easier time dealing with their family responsibilities if we took Ezra Klein's advice and mandated more vacation days.

Alternatively, the fewer children people have, the less domestic work there is to do. For a while now, the trend has been for the number of kids born to adjust to the economic demands for full-time work. We could, conceivably, adopt policies that aim in the other direction, but I haven't seen much indication that anyone in politics really wants to go that way.

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