Division of Labor

Study asks how men really feel about doing dishes


In countries where men and women share housework more equally, married men are more likely to be unsatisfied with their share of household duties as they report taking on a greater share of household chores, according to a new study by researchers at Emory and Umeå University in Sweden.

In other words, men are more likely to feel it’s unfair when they tackle a greater share of household chores in countries where a more egalitarian division of labor is considered the norm.

It may seem odd that men in countries where both men and women are expected to tackle chores would feel more dissatisfaction and a sense of unfairness.

“We presume that living in a more egalitarian society highlights the importance of housework in general, making men more conscious of it and thereby sparking a more negative response the more of it they do,” says Sabino Kornrich, assistant professor of sociology at Emory and lead researcher in the study (Maureen Eger, a sociologist at Umeå University, was the coauthor). “That suggests there’s a norm when men and women live in egalitarian countries that housework is an important, shared responsibility.”

The study, published in the journal Social Politics, included survey responses from roughly fourteen thousand men and women from thirty countries; all were under age sixty-five and married or living as married. Across all countries, women reported doing on average 75 percent of the housework. Men reported doing on average 31 percent of the housework. These numbers don’t equal 100 percent because they are based on self-reports of respondents’ own behavior as well as that of their spouses.

So where are the men who report doing at least 50 percent of the housework? Roughly 30 to 38 percent of men from Poland, the US, Australia, Denmark, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Latvia, and Sweden reported handling at least 50 percent. Roughly 15 percent or fewer of men in Portugal, the Czech Republic, Chile, and Japan (Japan ranked dead last with only about 6 percent) said they did at least 50 percent of housework.

Men from more gender-egalitarian countries, such as the US, Sweden, and Australia, were the most likely to believe they were doing an “unfair” amount of housework when they perform a large share of the household duties. Interestingly, men who do more household work in countries where men, on average, do less, such as Japan, were less likely to feel that their chore burden was unfair.

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