'New man' image takes a battering

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The Independent Online
ANOTHER nail is hammered in the coffin of New Man today. According to consumer research, many women's lives have become an unremitting round of paid and unpaid work. There are almost as many women as men with jobs - but women still do most of the shopping, washing, ironing, cooking and budgeting.

Couples who share these tasks number about 1 per cent, according to the market research organisation Mintel. The 'sharing couple', like the New Man, is a 'shattered' myth. Angela Hughes, market research manager, said: 'Despite more married women going to work, they are still shouldering the bulk of the responsibility for the household tasks.'

One in 10 of these women do all these jobs, make the long-term financial decisions and have a job as well. Mintel has christened these the 'household chiefs'.

Ms Hughes added: 'A decade or two ago the image of this human dynamo coping single-handedly was probably put forward as a glamorous and fun image that women should aspire to. The reality now is quite different: for many 'doing it all' probably equals drudgery rather than glamour.'

However, the picture has to be qualified. First, it is far from clear that such women dislike their lot. Although women are slightly less likely to find their lives as satisfying as men - women's satisfaction peaks between 25 and 54, when they are likely to be raising children, working and being 'household chiefs' - the busiest people appear to be the happiest.

Second, it is unclear what men do with their 'extra' time. Mintel says that men have an extra one to one-and-a-half hours of 'leisure' a day - three hours at weekends. They may do heavier DIY jobs or gardening. However, Peter Ayton, Mintel's research head, said there was evidence that 'quite a high proportion spend a significant time doing absolutely nothing'.

Men also tend to have full-time jobs, possibly with greater career obligations: on average women work part-time. One reason he cannot cook the evening meal, particularly in London and the South-east, where shared cooking is even rarer than the rest of the country, is that he may be commuting home from work.

The Mintel report is partly based on interviews with 1,500 adults. By mid-1993 there were 10.1 million women at work (10.7 million men). Six per cent of the female workforce are unemployed, less than half the level for men. However, almost half are in part-time jobs with few rights and benefits, and even in full-time jobs earn 29 per cent less than men.

The survey found that at least 80 per cent of women always, or mostly, do the cooking, shopping, washing and ironing. Almost half do the household budgeting.

Women 2000; Mintel, 18-19 Long Lane, London EC1A 9HE; pounds 795.

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