Your Family, Uncut

Christine Whelan | Posted on 05/26/10

University of California at Los Angeles social scientists wanted to know what makes American families tick. So instead of giving out a survey, they filmed families-nearly minute-by-minute-for a week. Reports The New York Times

After more than $9 million and untold thousands of hours of video watching, they have found that, well, life in these trenches is exactly what it looks like: a fire shower of stress, multitasking and mutual nitpicking. And the researchers found plenty to nitpick themselves.

Mothers still do most of the housework, spending 27 percent of their time on it, on average, compared with 18 percent for fathers and 3 percent for children (giving an allowance made no difference).

Husbands and wives were together alone in the house only about 10 percent of their waking time, on average, and the entire family was gathered in one room about 14 percent of the time. Stress levels soared - yet families spent very little time in the most soothing, uncluttered area of the home, the yard.

"I call it the new math," said Kathleen Christensen of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which financed the project. "Two people. Three full-time jobs." Parents learned on the fly, she said - and it showed.

I won't repeat my usual rants about this household ineqality. Or my hopes that things will improve. Instead, note the most amusing part of the article: While the families who were being taped weren't too bothered by the intrusion of researchers, the childless graduate students working on the project were horrified.

"The very purest form of birth control ever devised. Ever," said one, Anthony P. Graesch, a postdoctoral fellow, about the experience.

As my high-school motto quipped, not for school but for life we learn.

 

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