Feb. 28, 2013 at 4:20 PM ET
Thanks to shows like Mad Men, you might think housewives did little more than chain-smoke, spread gossip and watch soap operas all day. But a new study suggests that—thanks to all of their housework—they were much more active than we are today, and that our decision to enter the workforce has pretty much led to our becoming fat, lazy—but liberated—slobs.
According to the study, from the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, the surge in women’s obesity over the past 50 years may be due to the fact that women are spending much less time waxing their kitchen floors and hanging laundry on the clothesline and much more time climbing their way to the top. And by “climbing” what we really mean is sitting chained to our desks for 10 hours a day (which, P.S., isn’t just making us fat; it’s also killing us. But we digress).
In 1965, the average woman spent 25.7 hours a week cleaning, cooking and doing laundry. That’s five hours per workday doing physical labor. Today, we devote half that—just 13.3 hours a week—to household chores. When you consider the fact that washing dishes and cooking burns 100 calories an hour, while vacuuming and mopping burns twice that, you can see why the Betty Drapers of the world had Barbie doll figures. According to the National Sizing Survey, in 1950 the average woman’s waist was a teensy 24 inches. And here we thought it was all those pep pills (aka amphetamines) they were taking.
In fact, the National Sizing Survey reports that we actually eat less than women did back then. So much for blaming McDonald’s supersized menu and 7-Eleven Big Gulps on our obesity crisis. Women of the 1960s swallowed an average of 2,500 calories a day, while we eat between 1,500 and 2,000.
Women in the ‘60s also watched less TV. Whereas they only spent eight hours a week in front of their boob tubes, we log an average of 16.5 hours in front of a TV or computer screen. Even moms who are at home all day don’t burn the calories that they used to. Sure, it could have something to do with the fact that they’re all busy updating their mom blogs instead of starching the sheets for the second time this week. But housework is also a hell of a lot easier than it used to be. In 1952, just 33 percent of homes had a washing machine, 15 percent had a refrigerator and six percent had a car. That means you were busy scrubbing and wringing out clothes by hand when you weren’t dragging your ass—along with your kids and your groceries—all over town gathering supplies for your next meal.
So, yeah, while it's sad that we’ve liberated ourselves from hours of physical labor called housework just to stare at a computer screen all day and kill ourselves slowly from inactivity, at least we can stimulate our minds, do something we love and surround ourselves with like-minded thinkers instead of feeling trapped and isolated at home. If we choose to pursue sedentary careers, we really should be using just about all of our leisure time doing something active. To that end, I think we should all hire housekeepers and trade in our sofas for treadmills. That way, we can still get our Girls fix without feeling like big, fat slobs. And we avoid dishpan hands, too.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.