The Housewife

Back in 1960, Globus, the syndicated infographics agency in Germany, ran this remarkable visual analysis of what a German housewife did with her 10-hour working day.
Image: obs/dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH
Globus, which was founded in 1946, just after the Second World War, has just republished this in a media release to mark its 70th anniversary and the design rewards some analysis. The graph is the much-aligned pie chart design, which some critics claim is misleading as a visualization of data, but here it works perfectly well.

Because Globus worked mainly for the educational market rather than news media, it was vulnerable to one of those folk fallacies which holds that narrative symbols are easier to understand than synthetic ones. That is why it converted the perfectly good pie chart into a fob watch (people still had those in 1960) and added a skillet and broom for good measure.

The data itself is intriguing. In 1960, German women as in many other nations had "returned to the home" 15 years after the war's end amid a sentiment that this made it easier for men to find work, but a patronizing, even nasty tone towards the "common housewife" was common in news broadcasts of the era. What stands out here is that there was a massive amount of work in keeping a household.

An hour and a quarter of the average day was spent sewing and repairing, an extraordinary effort in the eyes of young moderns who just discard clothing when it tears or gets a hole in it. But I grew up in that era and it was a matter of course to darn socks, fix hems and sew on buttons. We even inspected clothes while buying them to judge how solidly the factory had done the buttonholes.

The two hours spent house-cleaning and the three and a half hours spent cooking indicate the time cost before home appliances were widespread. The hour a day shopping was another inefficiency that my own New Zealand mother had no time for in the 1960s. She phoned her orders to the grocer and had them delivered, and would have been delighted with today's online food.

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