The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

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The New Zealand Herald published a particularly silly โ€œLifestyleโ€ piece about an American wondering why Kiwis and Aussies hang clothes out to dry. It, of course, tries to reverse it, making it out as dumb to use a clothes dryer.

They quote one person, โ€œThe real question should be why do Americans use a dryer when the sun and wind is free?โ€ Well, why use washing machines when streams and rivers are free? Why have piped water when rain is free? Why buy groceries when you can forage and hunt for free? Why apply this theory to only dryers and not the rest of life? There are good reasons to use neither the โ€œfreeโ€ streams nor the sun.

One fact is these โ€œfreeโ€ things arenโ€™t free. They are only free in the sense of monetary costs but costs are greater than that. There is the value or your labor and time to consider as well. If youโ€™re a mom or dad spending 1/2 hour to hang up clothes, thatโ€™s 30 minutes you donโ€™t have to spend with your kids or your spouse. All these labor saving devices mean time parents spend with their own children has been expanding. This is true in multiple countries, as technology replaces labor, parents increase time with children. A study from the University of California, Irvine, found:

โ€ฆthat between 1965 and 2012, all but one of 11 Western nations showed an increase in the amount of time both parents spent with their kids. The study was published online in the August issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family.

In 1965, mothers spent a daily average of 54 minutes on child care activities, while moms in 2012 averaged almost twice that at 104 minutes per day. Fathersโ€™ time with children nearly quadrupled โ€” 1965 dads spent a daily average of just 16 minutes with their kids, while todayโ€™s fathers spend about 59 minutes a day caring for them.

Another aspect is cost of living means the cost of a dryer in Australia or New Zealand will tend to be higher than in the US when purchasing power parity is taken into account. My Live Elsewhere estimates Australia is 17.5% more expensive than the United States.

Most Americans use a dryer because itโ€™s cheaper in terms of all costs. Itโ€™s easier to do and quicker giving you more time to do other things. Here are some facts from the OECD regarding average minutes per day spent on routine housework. Women in the United States, as of 2016, spent 124 minutes per day on housework, while men spent 76 minutes. In Australia women spent 168 minutes doing housework and men there spent 93 minutes. Total time on housework in the US per day was one hour less than spent on it in Australia.

Now, if spending time with your laundry is of great personal satisfaction, go ahead and do it, but for most people they value their time on other things much higher. The individual hanging clothes out to dry is, in most cases, giving up things they value more highly to do something they have to do, but donโ€™t want to do.

Another obvious reason dryers are preferred to clothes lines is one can do laundry anytime it is convenient, not just on days when there is no rain, and not just during the day. A dryer means you can throw a load in the washer, go out for a dinner with your significant other, come home home after a movie and throw the clothes in a dryer, even if it is 10 p.m. and the sun set hours ago. You are not bound by the sun or the weather.

The Herald quoted the BBC with the silly claim โ€œthe reason most Americans donโ€™t have a clothes line is because of rules imposed by community associations.โ€ Nonsense. My grandparents and parents all had dryers when I was growing up and never lived in areas under โ€œcommunity associationโ€ control. As of 2009 about 80% of all U.S. households owned a dryer but only 20% of the population lived in areas under community associations. So, most Americans do have dryers but donโ€™t live in HOAs. It should be noted most of the remaining 20% who donโ€™t โ€œownโ€ a dryer are people in apartment complexes which often have laundry rooms with dryers for the tenants to use.

And, if you look at the curve of who owned dryers you will see it was increasing far more rapidly than the curve of Americans who lived in HOAs.

The reality is the value of having a dryer is greater than not having the dryer. It saves time and labor allowing people to spend that time and labor on things they consider more important. They do it because they value these other projects, not because some HOA requires it. As history Prof. Susan Strasser, author of Never Done: A History of American Housework, put it, โ€œMondays used to be the standard laundry day, and it could take all day. Now, we can throw a load of laundry in and do whatever else we want.โ€

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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.