Chores, Then and Now

The Wall Street Journal has an indisputable piece by Jennifer Wallace that points out that giving chores to children is a very good thing:

Giving children household chores at an early age helps to build a lasting sense of mastery, responsibility and self-reliance, according to research by Marty Rossmann, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota. In 2002, Dr. Rossmann analyzed data from a longitudinal study that followed 84 children across four periods in their lives — in preschool, around ages 10 and 15, and in their mid-20s. She found that young adults who began chores at ages 3 and 4 were more likely to have good relationships with family and friends, to achieve academic and early career success and to be self-sufficient, as compared with those who didn’t have chores or who started them as teens.

My parents worked all the time, which meant my brothers and I were in charge of putting together meals, doing dishes and laundry, and, since our floors were tiled with porcelain, lots and lots of mopping (once, I taped some sponges to my feet in an attempt to clean Pippi Longstocking-style). There was no money involved; we did chores because they needed to be done and because we feared what our parents would do if we didn’t obey them (i.e. corporal punishment).

I do think doing all of those chores as a kid made me a lot more self-reliant as an adult; things like paying bills on time, saving for retirement, and budgeting are essentially chores for adults. We do them because they need to be done, and because we fear the consequences of not doing them (insolvency, becoming a burden on others).

OF course, this could all be hogwash: My two brothers and I were all equally good at doing our chores, but as adults we’ve had varying degrees of success and failures in our professional and financial lives.

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