Housework and Responsibility

By Adam J. Pearson

It is an age-old question: who should be responsible for housework? Everyday tasks like doing the dishes, doing laundry, vaccuuming, cleaning the kitchen and so on are part of daily living. If people are living together, then who can justifiably be expected to handle these tasks, and in what proportion?  To make matters simple, I’ll look at this question in terms of two people who are living together.

When determining how housework is to be divided up, the most morally relevant factor is the occupation of those involved.  Are they involved in full-time studies or working full-time or are they simply cohabitating? The answer to this question determines the share of the housework for which they can be reasonably expected to be responsible.

If two people are living together and both working/in school, then they must share the responsibility for the housework in an equitable way. If however, only one of the two is working/in school and the other is doing neither, then that person must assume a majority of the responsibility for the housework. This is because doing so ensures that they make an equitable contribution to the house, which compensates for the fact that their partner is paying all of the bills. Situations where this does not hold are situations of injustice.

If, for instance, two people live together and one of them is working full-time while the other is neither working nor going to school, then that person has an ethical obligation to attend to a larger portion of the housework than the other. They are obligated to assume a fair share of the house work so that the other person does not have to work a ‘double shift,’ both working at their job and doing all of the housework at home.  By so doing, they ensure that both parties involved make an equitable contribution to the housework, that is, one that is fair and balanced.

A person who fails to uphold this obligation is acting in a way that is unjust, unfair, and unethical. In such a situation, the other person has a right to criticize and confront them for their irresponsibility. This remains true regardless of what the genders of the people involved are. Old stereotypes of women as having to do all of the housework just because they are women, for example, are totally unjustified and mere products of male-dominant prejudice.

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