LONG BEACH - Years
ago, a popular television commercial exalted the empowering effect
of a woman's ability both to "bring home the bacon" and
to "fry it up in a pan."
But according to a new study by an economics professor
at The University of Southern Mississippi, the more education a
woman has, the slower she may be to clean up afterwards.
Called "But Can She Cook? Women's Education and
Housework Productivity," the study examined women from a national
dataset and their productivity in performing household chores like
ironing, vacuuming and washing dishes. The findings indicate an
inverse relationship between higher levels of education and housework
productivity, a result that surprised Dr. David Sharp, lead author
of the study, which was conducted with three other economists.
"All previous studies in economics show that
the greater the level of education, the more productive you are
in all of life's endeavors. While with most endeavors this holds
true, if you limit the study to just housework--ironing, cleaning--the
effect is usually negative," said Sharp. Although it is still
in press, the study has already caught the attention of media as
far away as Canada. Last month, Sharp was interviewed on two Canadian
radio stations, and the National Post, the Canadian equivalent to
USA Today, ran a story on the study with comments from Sharp. The
study will be published in an upcoming edition of the journal "Economics
of Education Review."
"The fact that Dr. Sharp's study has generated
such widespread interest illustrates the potential impact of faculty
research on gaining recognition for our university," said Dr.
Harold Doty, dean of the College of Business.
"We need to be supportive of all faculty research
efforts because you never know which ones will lead to garnering
attention in the international community. If you want to build a
reputation on this level, you must have committed faculty generating
Sharp is quick to point out that while the data show
an inverse relationship between education and housework productivity,
there are exceptions to every rule.
"More highly educated women generally have a
lower productivity when it comes to housework, but everyone is different,
and this might not hold true for all. All it really says is that
they are trained for market work and not housework, and their levels
of satisfaction and productivity are affected by this," he
The researchers explain the inverse relationship with
what they term the "morale effect." It suggests that women
with higher levels of education and those largely employed outside
the home find less enjoyment in performing household chores. Instead,
they prefer to marshal their energies into their jobs and shun the
toil of regular housework.
"This makes sense on the surface," Sharp
said, "because if you're trained to do something else, you're
not going to be enthusiastic about doing this other job, which is
Sharp said he has been somewhat surprised by reaction
to the study, especially from the Canadian media.
"Without actually reading the article, they thought
we were saying that women shouldn't be educated so they'd be better
at doing housework. We're not saying that at all. Certainly, the
positive effects of education far outweigh the negatives of diminished
productivity in housework," he said.