How Long Hours of Housework Affect Elderly Women

Elderly men in the United States and Europe tend to spend less time on housework than elderly women, according to a new study by researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology in Germany. Housework is defined as any home-improving task such as cleaning, cooking, shopping, gardening, and maintenance.

The findings show that elderly women on average spend almost five hours a day doing housework, while elderly men average around three hours a day. The study also found that although those who engage in more housework tend to feel healthier, women who do long hours of housework combined with too much or too little sleep report poorer health.

To examine the associations between time spent on housework, time spent sleeping and health, the researchers analyzed self-reported data from 15,333 men and 20,907 women aged 65 years and over from Germany, Italy, Spain, the U.K., France, the Netherlands, and the U.S.

Elderly participants reported the total time they spent per day on 41 activities in five, 10, or 15-minute time periods. They also reported the total amount of time they spent sleeping per day, as well as whether they felt they were in poor, fair, good, or very good health.

“Engaging in a few hours of housework may be beneficial to the health of older adults. However, we were surprised to see significant gender differences when looking at the combination of time spent on housework activities and time spent sleeping,” said coauthor Nicholas Adjei, a doctoral researcher in public health.

“Long periods of housework combined with too much or too little sleep — that is, fewer than seven or more than eight hours of sleep, respectively — was associated with poor health among elderly women, whereas in men the same was associated with good health.”

The researchers also found notable differences between the type of housework men and women spent time on. Among all countries included in this study, men spent less time cleaning, cooking, and shopping than women (88.7 minutes a day compared to 217.9 minutes a day). However, women were found to spend less time on gardening and maintenance tasks than men (38.5 minutes a day compared to 68.8 minutes a day).

Elderly women in Italy and Germany spent the most time on housework (around five hours a day), while women in the U.S. spent the least amount of time doing housework (four hours a day).

In contrast, elderly men in Italy spent the least amount of time on housework (2.7 hours a day) and German men spent the most time on housework (4.2 hours a day).

“The percentage of those aged 65 years and above is increasing globally due to higher life expectancy. It is important to understand how older adults spend their time in these later years and the possible positive and negative implications for their health,” said Adjei.

The authors note that the cross-sectional, observational nature of the study cannot determine cause and effect. While the study relied on self-reported data, previous research has demonstrated reliability and accuracy of this kind of data in reflecting current health status, according to the authors.

The findings are published in the open access journal BMC Public Health.

Source: BioMed Central