Saturday, December 30, 2006

I'll take the risk

I got a text from my friend Josie today: "According to the paper if women do housework there's less chance of breast cancer." So I got hold of the paper and read something like this

Women who keep their homes clean and tidy are less likely to develop breast cancer than those who let the dust and dishes pile up, according to a new report.

Researchers found regular moderate exercise such as housework provides greater protection from the disease than more strenuous but less frequent sporting activity.

Being active in the home cut the likelihood of pre-menopausal women developing breast cancer by 29 per cent compared with being inactive, and reduced the risk for post-menopausal women by 19 per cent.

What I find particularly amusing is that even though the research absolutely didn't touch on whether or not the women's houses were clean (rich women who have cleaners can have very clean houses without spending an hour on housework, whereas mother's of several children could do 17.6 hours a week easy and still live in chaos), the various newspaper reports worked very hard to imply that it was the dust itself that was causing the cancer risk.

I always go into these stories outraged by the sexism, but by the end of the article, I'm often just as outraged by the scientific ignorance. It's as if every health reporter on the planet needs to be locked in a room until they've written "Correlation Does Not Prove Causation" 1,000 times. If you actually want to read the study itself to find out what it does prove (not much), it's available here as a pdf file.

But actually this study discovered something that I do find interesting. This was a survey of 218,169 women in 9 European countries and the average pre-menopausal woman spent 17.6 hours a week on housework.

I believe that the vast amount of unpaid, unvalued reproductive labour that women do, is central to our oppression. The women in that study averaged 10% of their life on housework (which appeared to leave out the actual reproduction). The solutions to the second shift: men taking on their share of unpaid work, and a socialisation of some labour that is currently unpaid, haven't changed, but they don't look any easier to put into place either.


  1. Does it have to be housework? Couldn't physical activity suffice?

  2. Anonymous7:59 am

    "Researchers found regular moderate exercise such as housework provides greater protection from the disease than more strenuous but less frequent sporting activity."

    seems pretty clear to me that it has everything to do with exercise and nothing to do with dust.

  3. Right, so it's more about assuming that the appropriate regular moderate exercise for women is housework...

  4. Anonymous12:22 pm

    Here is an article refuting the housework-breas cancer claims:

    The author points out that in fact any kind of exercise doesn't have much to do with risk for breast cancer at all (and neither does BMI), according to the statistics of this study.