Anyone who can remember back to October – yes, a long time ago – will recall Jessica Stilwell, the Calgary mother who decided to go on strike from housework, leaving her home to sink into a mess of dirty clothes and dishes.
Now a new study suggests that among working-class couples, men still leave the housework to women, even when the women earn more.
But it’s not always an issue of sexism; the researchers discovered that, in some cases, the men simply didn’t care.
The study analyzed 30 partners who live together but remain unmarried. Amanda Miller from the University of Indianapolis and Sharon Sassler of Cornell grouped the couples into three categories: conventional (male breadwinner, woman may or may not work), contesting (one or both members would prefer the relationship to be more equal), counter-conventional (woman earns more).
They found that in the counter-conventional relationships, women did nearly the same amount of housework. The reason, Miller told Buzzfeed, was that not doing housework helped unemployed or under-employed men retain their “masculine privilege.”
In one contesting couple example, the man would not hold up his fair share of housework because he was oblivious. He was quoted as responding: ‘"I just don’t see the dirt usually. I don’t see that it needs to be done.”’
There appeared to be less conflict among conventional couples because each was aware of their role. This, explained Miller, was a case of ‘”people's beliefs match their behaviors.”’
A Google search of “men” and “housework” yields a surfeit of recent varying findings. “Divorce rate higher for couples who share housework,” from this article or this study from the University of Sweden that suggests men who shirk housework are more likely to suffer psychological problems.
The Globe even reported back in August that husbands do less housework than live-in boyfriends.
So what to make of all these studies, aside from the fact that men don’t enjoy housework?
It’s safe to assume that women, too, are not fans of housework (see Stilwell). But because men have not been traditionally responsible for changing sheets and cleaning toilets, there’s more academic interest in seeing how this affects the bond between long-term couples.
Ultimately, the issue becomes one of expectations, a point conveyed by Miller, who reiterates the importance of laying out some groundwork on housework (one underrated piece of advice: music helps. Try the new Solange EP!).
“So many of these silly domestic arguments could be sorted by a quick, open chat about who does what around the house,” writes Telegraph columnist Louisa Peacock on the latest study. “There's no point assuming your partner will do something you think he should do.”
And the alternative, evidently, is nothing short of a mess.