Admit it. There are times when you look back on the housewives of the fifties and sixties and get a little jealous. Sure, they didn't have a lot of options, relied on their husbands for everything and were stuck in a world of even stronger institutionalized sexism than there is today, but have you seen their waists? Tiiiiiiiny. Like so tiny that they could use a doll's bracelet as a belt. So tiny that they were basically Borrowers who lived in the walls and used thread spools as chairs (their butts were super tiny, too). Now, of course, we can't do that. We have to use regular human-sized belts and sit on normal chairs and it's all because we stopped spending our days doing physical labor around the house and just had to get into the workplace. Thanks, Betty Friedan. You may have gotten us out of the kitchen, but only at the cost of turning us into a bunch of sloppy fatsos. Excuse me while I go eat my copy of The Feminine Mystique.
A recent study out of the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina in Columbia is claiming that the rise in obesity over the past 50 years, in this case, looking exclusively at women, may have something to do with the fact that women are spending much less time doing manual household chores. In 1965, the average woman spent 25.7 hours a week cooking and cleaning (activities that both burn a considerable amount of energy, especially considering the weight of household appliances 50 years ago). Contrast that to now when women spend an average of 13.3 hours a week on housework.
Additionally, women are now spending more time in front of screens. Women in the sixties only spent about 8 hours a week watching television — a number that more than doubled by 2010 to 16.5 hours. (To be fair, they didn't even have HBO yet.)
Because our lifestyles have become more sedentary we — obviously — are burning less calories. And this isn't just for working women, but modern-day homemakers, as well, thanks mostly to how lightweight and easy to use most appliances have become. From the New York Times:
According to the authors' calculations, American women not employed outside the home were burning about 360 fewer calories every day in 2010 than they had in 1965, with working women burning about 132 fewer calories at home each day in 2010 than in 1965.
I'm not going to argue with these findings. No doy — being more active will burn more calories and keep you in fitter shape. My mother has been a house cleaner for most my life and she has biceps like Madonna thanks to all of the heavy lifting and scrubbing that she has to do. But the data doesn't have to be gendered — the same can probably be said about the decrease in manufacturing jobs and hard manual labor. More of the American workforce is spending their day sitting in front of a computer working on spreadsheets or whatever than they are assembling cars or pushing around 40 lbs. vacuum cleaners.
While this change in labor trends presents its own problems (problems we can ideally eat), I still think that, at least for women, the change is worth it. I, for one, much prefer having a job that I love, providing for myself and living in a world where I can marathon two seasons of Homeland than I do being sixties housewife thin. That said, we should all probably exercise more. Or go on this sixties housewife diet that I just invented that consists only of barbiturates and the ice from your husband's scotch. You'll be a (not fat) Betty Draper yet!