The following excerpt is from the report, Women, Men, and Work, published by the Russell Sage Foundation and the Population Reference Bureau. This report is one of several in the new series, “The American People,” which sets the results of Census 2000 in context and collectively provides a portrait of the American people in a new century. Each report is written by an author or team of authors selected for their expertise with the data and their broad understanding of the implications of demographic trends.

(October 2004) How women and men divide their time between paid and unpaid work changes over time, both because the demographic characteristics of people change (compositional shifts) and because people modify their behavior. Women and men in more recent generations are better educated and are delaying entry into marriage and parenthood well into their 30s. Generation X women and men are both more likely to be single without children and single with children compared with earlier generations. But how do all these changes affect the paid and unpaid work of women and men?

In this section we first discuss how population changes in family status and education should affect paid and unpaid work. We then explore how shifting behaviors shape changes in paid and unpaid work. Finally, we examine the roles that changing behavior and changes in the composition of family status and education play in explaining shifts in paid and unpaid work.

The increase in women’s employment should also account for some of the change in housework and child care, because the more hours women spend doing paid work, the fewer they have to devote to unpaid work in the home. In fact, studies show that employed women do less housework and child care compared with women who do not work for pay.1 In contrast, men’s employment has little or no association with time in housework and child care.

Changes in women’s and men’s allocation of time to paid and unpaid work also reflect behavioral shifts associated with broad cultural and social transformations. For example, attitudes about women’s involvement in paid work have become increasingly liberal, and norms about the appropriateness of women attending college have changed. Changes in the social acceptance of women working and going to college have allowed more women to change their behaviors, increasing employment and college attendance. Housekeeping standards are also more relaxed than in the past, and convenience products such as take-out meals are more common. These changes have allowed women to decrease the amount of time they spend on housework. It has also become more socially acceptable for men to cook, clean, and take care of their children. By contrast, however, parenting practices have become more time-intensive as mothers and fathers are expected to devote most nonemployment hours to their children. Changes in parenting norms mean that parents have increased the time they spend with children.

Women’s and men’s paid and unpaid work time have changed in relation to changes in groups of demographic characteristics. For example, single mothers tend to be younger and have less education compared with married mothers. How do changes in family status and human capital combined affect changes in women’s and men’s paid and unpaid work, and to what extent are these changes due to the changing family status and human capital characteristics of the population versus shifts in men’s and women’s behaviors?

For this information, we adjust paid and unpaid work hours to account for the combined effect of changes in women’s and men’s human capital characteristics (employment, education, and age); family status characteristics (marital and parental status); and alterations in their behavior. We then separate the change in these paid and unpaid work hours into that part due to shifts over time in the characteristics of people and that part due to changes over time in how people behave.2

The table below shows adjusted annual hours of paid work for women and men in 1980 and 2000, and the difference in adjusted annual hours between 1980 and 2000.

We calculated the adjusted annual hours under the assumption that all women (men) have the family status and human capital characteristics of the average woman (man) in 1980 and in 2000. We can then partition the difference in the adjusted annual hours between 1980 and 2000 into two components: the portion that is the result of shifts in women’s and men’s characteristics, and the portion due to shifts in behavior. This partitioning allows us to determine whether the inclination of women and men to spend time in paid work changed between 1980 and 2000, or whether the observed difference in annual hours of paid work reflects merely a change in the structure of the population, such as how many women and men are married, have children, and have a college education.

Portion of Change in Adjusted Annual Hours of Paid Work Attributable to Behavioral and Compositional Factors, 1980 and 2000

Adjusted annual hours of paid work Women Men
2000 1,282 1,959
1980 773 1,954
Difference 2000-1980 adjusted annual hours 509 5
Change due to shifts in characteristics 241 44
Change due to shifts in behavior 268 -39

Source: Authors’ tabulations using the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS), 2003.

Liana Sayer is an assistant professor of sociology at the Ohio State University. Philip N. Cohen is an associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine. Lynne M. Casper is a health scientist administrator and demographer in the Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).


  1. Shelley Coverman, “Explaining Husbands’ Participation in Domestic Labor,” The Sociological Quarterly 26, no. 1 (1985): 81-97; Shelley Coverman and Joseph F. Sheley, “Change in Men’s Housework and Child-Care Time, 1965-1975,” Journal of Marriage and Family 48, no. 2 (1986): 413-22; William Marsiglio, “Paternal Engagement Activities with Minor Children,” Journal of Marriage and Family 53, no. 4 (1991): 973-86; and Cathleen D. Zick and W. K. Bryant, “A New Look at Parents’ Time Spent in Child Care: Primary and Secondary Time Use,” Social Science Research 25, no. 3 (1996): 260-80.
  2. Ronald Oaxaca, “Male-Female Wage Differentials in Urban Labor Markets,” International Economic Review 14, no. 3 (1973): 693-709.