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Juggling Act: Why Are Women Still Trying To Do It All?

<p><em>This story is part of a week-long series on women and the economy based on <a href="">"The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink."</a></em></p>
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Carrin Jade is a lawyer, a yoga teacher, a freelance writer and — in her spare time — a mother to two young children. Her life is a dizzying stream of activity, made busier by the fact that she and her husband have chosen to raise their kids without the help of a nanny or full-time babysitter – just the occasional assistance of family members.

“I’ve always been wired to do too much,” said Jade, who is in her thirties and lives in New York City. “My brother is not quite the same way; I can’t just say it was the way I was raised.”

Her husband, also a lawyer, isn’t wired that way, either, but Jade says he helps out wherever he can. Jade’s days are long: She and her husband trade off working from home to watch their four-year-old and two-year-old; at night, they eat dinner after the kids have gone to sleep, then Jade stays up to plan family activities or make grocery lists.

“There are days when I’ve barely slept when I’m wondering how I’m going to get through it,” she said. “Sometimes I have more peace about it, and other times, I feel like I’m on the verge of a breakdown.”

But Jade says she can’t imagine living any other way.

She’s not alone. Despite decades of strides in the professional world, women still take on more than their share of work around the home and lag behind men when it comes to taking free time for themselves, experts say.

According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey from June, 82 percent of women spent time doing housework, cooking or other household management on an average day, versus just 65 percent of men – and women spend longer per day doing these chores.

Total workload breakdown – time spent on housework, childcare, running errands and paid work – varies by spouses' employment status, said Sara Raley, an associate professor of sociology at McDaniel College in Maryland. “If you look at women who work part-time who are married to men who work full-time, then the workloads are about even,” she said. But in families with working mothers of young children and families with no children, women do more overall work than men.

Even female breadwinners on average do more housework and childcare than their husbands, studies have found. (Stay-at-home dads are an exception.)

With this week’s release of the Shriver Report, a document looking at women’s lives in post-recession America, NBC News asked social science experts why so many women take on so much.

Taking on 'invisible' chores

One culprit? Deep-rooted cultural assumptions about women’s position in and outside the home, says Debora Spar, president of Barnard College.

“We’ve had centuries of expectations of women’s roles, and they’re all around child-rearing, home-keeping and husband maintenance,” said Spar, author of “Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection.” “We added to those expectations the opportunities for women to enter the workforce, but we never really, societally, rejiggered what women were supposed to do at home.”

Even young women assume that they'll bear the burden of domestic chores in marriage, said Janelle Fetterolf, a graduate student pursuing her Ph.D. in psychology at Rutgers.

In a 2011 study of more than 100 undergraduate females, women said they expected to do 60 percent of housework when they got married, Fetterolf found. “Regardless of how much they thought they would be working and their educational attainment, they always expected to do more housework and childcare than their spouse,” she said. Men were more likely than women to say men should be providing financially and that women should be taking care of the housework and childcare.

Among married couples, women often take on even more than they realize. On top of basic chores such as cooking and cleaning, “there are other things that women are doing that are almost invisible to them,” said Pamela Smock, a sociology professor at the University of Michigan. “That includes kin work, which means who sends out holiday cards, who has to get on the phone with the in-laws to make arrangements for Thanksgiving.”

In some cases, domestic inequality may stem from some women not feeling justified in delegating chores. “They don’t feel entitled to assert that the spouse engage in a 50-50 marriage,” said Laurie Rudman, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University who has done studies on gender equality.

Letting go of perfect

Some women may not delegate to their male partners because they feel they are better at many chores – but even women who ask for assistance may not get it. “We got some signal that the guys are just slacking off. They’ll say they want to do something, and then they don’t follow through,” Rudman said. “Many men are certainly stepping up to do more, but it’s often not in their realm of expectations for themselves.”

And when men do help out with certain tasks, said Smock, they often choose chores with a “leisure component” — such as yard work or changing the oil in the car – that have a more flexible timetable than making dinner or putting a young child to bed each night.

Compounding the pressure to take on domestic duties, workplace prejudices still exist that make women more likely to push themselves on the job, too. “There’s a lot of evidence that indicates that women are promoted on the basis of performance, and men on the basis of expectations,” Spar said. “If women are only going to get promoted once they’ve actually performed very, very well, it means they can’t cut corners at work.”

Women tend to be perfectionists, she added, but should start taking a cue from men: It’s time to dial down the self-inflicted pressure to juggle all of life’s balls in the air.

“Women are racing all the time to try to have a perfect house and perfect kids and be a perfect cook,” she said. “Men, somehow, for whatever reason, seem to be better able to pick and choose, to focus on things they like and that are important to them, and let the other things go.”

To lessen the domestic load, Smock, the sociology professor, recommends women talk with husbands about the delegation of duties if they want to cut back.

“They’re going to have to somehow get their husbands to do more,” she said. “Come at the conversation with this kind of information. Don’t come at it in anger. Talk about what they need to do as partners for the long-term.”