By Arnold Kling
A paper by Jeremy Greenwood, Ananth Seshadri, and Mehmet Yorukoglu examines the role of modern appliances in liberating women from housework.
To understand the impact of the household revolution, try to imagine the tyranny of household chores at the turn of the last century. In 1890 only 24 percent of houses had running water, none had central heating. So, the average household lugged around the home, 7 tons of coal and 9,000 gallons of water per year. The simple task of laundry was a major operation in those days. While mechanical washing machines were available as early as 1869, this invention really took off only with the development of the electric motor. Ninety-eight percent of households used a 12 cent scrubboard to wash their clothes in 1900. Water had to be ported to the stove, where it was heated by burning wood or coal. The clothes were then cleaned via a washboard or mechanical washing machine. They had to be rinsed out after this. The water then needed to be wrung out, either by hand or by using a mechanical wringer. The clothes were then hung out to dry on a clothes line. Then, the oppressive task of ironing began, using heavy flatirons that had to be heated continuously on the stove.
For Discussion. The authors argue that modern appliances helped enable women to join the labor force in the market economy. What other factors might account for this development?