If a recent paper from the UK is correct, it might change the way husbands feel about doing housework. That is, they might be more willing to do it. Traditionally, or perhaps stereotypically, housework has been the role of the woman, whereas the more standard direct financial support (i.e., “bread-winning”) has been the role of the man. I’m not going to get into the veracity of that stereotype, because a more interesting conclusion was drawn from a recent study. Namely, men who share the housework rather than delegate it to their significant other are happier.
The study comes out of Cambridge University, based on results from the European Social Study – a survey of 30,000 people among 34 countries. People were asked how much time they spend on tasks like cooking, washing, cleaning, shopping, and otherwise maintaining the household. The results state “Contrary to expectations, men, not women, benefited from a less traditional gender role divide in household chores.” In other words, women weren’t happier doing less of the work, but men were happier doing more of it. This strikes me as… kind of amazing.
Intuitively, you would expect women to be happier doing less and men being unhappier doing more. So what’s really happening here? A quick look at recent headlines gives some ideas:
- MSN: “Forget sex, chores make men feel happy, too.”
- The Daily Mail:”Men are happiest when sharing the housework (and, no, you didn’t misread that, ladies)”
- Chateline: “Housework makes men happy! (Really!)”
However, all of these headlines are wrong – or at least, not necessarily true. First, it’s important to realize that this was a correlational study. We don’t know if housework actually caused the participants to have increased happiness. That would be a totally different study, probably using an ABAB design methodology (i.e. manipulating housework and recording happiness).
Therefore, housework may in fact be more like a symptom of a happy relationship, rather than a cause; or they may even be connected by some other indirectly-related factor. WYCD titled their coverage “Happy Men Do Housework!” Fark went for the accurate title “Study claims men are happiest when sharing the housework.”
As far as I can tell (if anyone can find the actual paper, please let me know) the claim that men are happier is a comparison of happiness ratings between those who split the housework and those who do none. So don’t get the impression that men will be ecstatic to suddenly take over 100% of the housework. Also, don’t expect the results to be the same when a man is living alone and doing all of his own housework. These results reflect happiness for men within couples, not single men.
So it’s not about men doing housework. It’s about men sharing it. Why? The researchers offered an explanation: “It may be because more men support gender equality, so they feel uncomfortable if the woman does most of the housework, and because women are becoming more and more assertive and making their dissatisfaction with lazy partners plain.” Some people have interpreted this as “women stop nagging when men do the housework – and that makes men happy.” This could be somewhat true, but I think it’s too simplistic. Regardless, the researchers assert that men ”may be uncomfortably conscious of work getting in the way of their doing a fair share of the chores at home, whereas women have been doing a double shift.”
I believe that the answer is even more simple – even obvious. Writer Jenna McCarthy (no, not the anti-vaccine Playboy propagandist of the same name) gave a TED talk earlier in the year, in which she talked about interesting facts regarding marriage. At one point, she talked about some research similar to the Cambridge study, saying:
One of my favorite studies found that the more willing a husband is to do house work, the more attractive his wife will find him. …Because we needed a study to tell us this.
But here’s what’s going on here. The more attractive she finds him, the more sex they have; the more sex they have, the nicer he is to her; the nicer he is to her, the less she nags him about leaving wet towels on the bed – and ultimately, they live happily ever after.
In other words, men, you might want to pick it up a notch in the domestic department.
Indeed, it all makes sense when you think about it in sexual terms – the gender equality, the nagging, etc. So when MSN says “Forget sex, chores make men feel happy, too…” what they really should be saying is “Remember sex? Do the chores, first, gentlemen.”