THEN AND NOW: How household chores have changed over the years

Hulton Archive/Getty Images, Ute Grabowsky/Photothek via Getty ImagesDoing laundry then and now.
  • Vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, and car washes don’t need to be operated by humans anymore.
  • Women still do more housework than men, but the gap has narrowed since the 1950s.
  • Americans are cooking less and eating out more than in past eras.

Household chores used to be a full-time job. While cleaning, cooking, and doing laundry still require some elbow grease, many chores can be completed more efficiently than ever with the help of more advanced technology.


Read more:
THEN AND NOW: How American families have changed since the early 1900s

Here’s how household chores have changed over the years.


Vacuum cleaners were invented in 1901 and redesigned in 1908 to include a bag that collects dust and dirt via suction.

R. Riner/ GettyA vacuum cleaner in 1963.

The patent was sold to William Henry Hoover in 1908, who added changeable bags and other features to the design in the 1920s.


Vacuums don’t even need to be operated by humans anymore.

PhillipsA Philips Smartpro Active Robot vacuum cleaner.

These days, there are robotic vacuum cleaners that can memorise the layout of a home, clean at prescheduled times, and automatically return to their charging station.


Early electric washing machines had built-in wringers to squeeze out wet clothes.

Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesA housewife operates an electric washing machine with a built in wringer in her kitchen in 1950.

Some wringers were powered by a hand-operated crank, while others ran on motors. Motor-powered wringers often caused injuries since the operator had to feed each piece of clothing into the moving rollers.


Washers look more like smartphones today.

Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesA programmable washing machine.

Washing machines now have programmable touch screens to customise the temperature, speed, soil level, and other factors of a given laundry load.


When it came time to dry a load of laundry, hanging it on a clothesline used to be the typical method.

WATFORD/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty ImagesA housewife hangs laundry to dry in 1954.

It’s still used by many households as a way to save money and prevent wear and tear. It’s also more environmentally friendly.


Clothing dryers are seen as a necessity, but their use is declining.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesShopping for dryers.

Pew Research found that 59% of Americans view dryers as a necessity. That number has been declining in recent years – in 2006, 83% viewed dryers as a necessity.

Clothing dryers now account for 5% of all residential electricity consumption in the US, according to the US Energy Information Administration’s 2015 Residential Energy Consumption Survey.


In the 1950s, homemakers made hearty family dinners from scratch.

Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesA housewife holds an unbaked pie while looking at a wall clock in a kitchen.

Recipes like Jell-O salads were all the rage.


Now, getting dinner on the table can be accomplished through apps.

People are cooking less and eating out more than in past eras. According to the US Census Bureau, Americans are spending more money on restaurants and other eating and drinking establishments than they are on groceries. People are also consuming more food away from home, according to the USDA.


The first dishwasher was patented in 1886 and became a standard appliance in the 1950s.

Bettman/Getty ImagesA dishwasher in 1921.

Josephine Garis Cochran first patented the dishwasher in 1886 with wire compartments placed inside a wheel powered by a motor. She went on to found KitchenAid in 1919. By the 1950s, dishwashers were a standard kitchen appliance.


Today, 54% of US households have a dishwasher and use it once a week.

Willie J. Allen Jr./AP Images for BSH Home AppliancesA dishwasher designed to accommodate glassware.

The US Energy Information Administration found that overall, dishwashers are the least-used appliances in American homes. Almost 20% of households said that they did not use their dishwasher in 2015.


Hosing down the car and scrubbing it with a sponge was a standard chore in American suburbs.

Harold M. Lambert/Lambert/Getty ImagesA father and son wash the family’s Ford Fairlane circa 1955.

As car ownership became more popular, it allowed families to move farther from urban areas and commute to work, and having a home with a backyard and picket fence became the “American dream.”


Automatic car washes have increased in popularity.

Checubus/ShutterstockAn automatic car wash.

According to the International Carwash Association, an increasing number of Americans are taking their cars to professional car washes instead of doing the chore themselves, jumping from 47% in 1994 to 72% in 2014.


Lawn mowers were invented in 1830, but sales boomed after World War II.

Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty ImagesA woman mows the lawn in 1950.

Before World War II, 13% of Americans lived in suburbs, according to the Oxford Research Encyclopedia. By 2010, half of the US population lived in suburbs, and yard work became another household chore.


Now, there are robotic lawn mowers.

Similar to robotic vacuums, they’re powered by batteries and use sensors to stay on the lawn and out of the street.


In the 1950s, housework was considered a woman’s job.

SSPL/Getty ImagesA woman works in the kitchen while a man sits on the counter smoking a pipe.

The cultural emphasis on family life in the post-war 1950s meant that men often went to work while women stayed home and kept house. Women’s magazines ran articles about the best ways to clean and cook, and advertisements depicted women in the kitchen serving their husbands dinner in aprons and heels.


Men are pitching in more to help with housework and parenting responsibilities, but women still do most of it.

As gender roles shift and women focus more on their careers before having children, millennial men are also shifting to take on more housekeeping and parenting responsibilities – or, at least, they’re trying to. Women still take on a disproportionate amount of that unpaid labour.

The Bureau of Labour Statistics reported in 2015 that women spend twice as much time on household chores such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry as men do.

“The majority of young men and women say they would ideally like to equally share earning and care giving with their spouse,”Sarah Th├ębaud, a sociologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told The New York Times. “But it’s pretty clear that we don’t have the kinds of policies and flexible work options that really facilitate egalitarian relationships.”

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