Life’s a Chore

September 30th, 2008 by Kathy McManus

Should kids be responsible for doing more around the house?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

A new study has identified an emerging domestic threat that could be responsible for making future marriages teeter and prompting a decline in volunteerism and empathy.

The study is about children and chores.

University of Maryland Professor Sandra Hofferth—who is an expert on how children use their time—reports that 6 to 12 year-olds now spend an average of only 24 minutes a day doing household chores. That’s a 12% drop from 1997, and a 25% skid since 1981.

The chore-defying dive reflects “important behavioral and values shifts that will affect lives for years to come,” says Dr. Hofferth.

Doing household chores as a child turns out to be a major predictor of whether an individual does volunteer or community work as an adult, according to sociologists, who note that housework is an important teaching tool. And when it comes to domestic bliss, the distribution of domestic duties—grounded in childhood chores—can make or break a marriage.

According to experts, children’s chores are declining in part because they’re spending more time on reading, studying, and other activities. But even their parental role models are doing less work around the house, hiring help instead or simply letting chores chill.

Within days of the news that chore times had dropped like the Dow, a new website called began promoting itself as a novel solution to motivating kids by making a “virtual” game of chores. Instead of nagging Junior to feed the dog, parents log on and send a virtual note, which their child retrieves from his virtual room. In real life, the child supposedly feeds the dog, then emails his parents that the task has been completed.

But success may come at the expense of another domestic chore: parent-child communication. “You see the appeal,” wrote a reporter about the website. “Parenting, a messy series of weary battles that never seem to lead anywhere, becomes something that can be checked off and filed. No back talk. Just hit ‘send.’” 

Tell us what you think: Should children be responsible for doing more chores? Are chore-less children really responsible for failed marriages and fewer volunteers? As a responsible parent, would you turn over chore supervision to a computer?