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Released November 16, 2004

By Christopher Mapp

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 new knowledge."

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 said.

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 housework."

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.


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December 8, 2004 3:04 PM