July 5, 2012 at 7:46 AM ET
An intriguing new study suggests that men are happier and less stressed when they do more of the housework.
Published as part of a new book, the study looks at how household chores are divvied up in families and at how that division of labor affects the well-being and stress of moms and dads. The study scrutinized data collected by the European Social Survey.
Cambridge University researchers Jacqueline Scott and Anke Plagnol suspected that men would be less happy when they took on more of the housework, which they defined as cooking, shopping and cleaning. “Engaging in housework may be more demeaning for men,” they wrote.
So it was a big surprise to them when it turned out that men were actually happier and less stressed when household chores were equally shared by men and women. “Our findings indicate that our expectation is completely wrong,” the researchers wrote in the book, “Gendered Lives: Gender Inequalities in Production and Reproduction."
The researchers were also surprised by the number of dual-income families that shared household chores equally: almost one in five. And another 9 percent reported that most of the housework was being done by men. Nevertheless, Scott and her coauthor found that more than 68 percent of families were still reporting most of the housework being done by women.
When the woman was the breadwinner, more men were stepping up to the plate. A full 22 percent of those households reported that men were doing most of the housework, with 15 percent reporting an equal division, vs. 57 percent where the woman did most of the household chores.
Men, as it turns out, reported more work-family conflict when women did most of the household chores. And their scores for well-being were also lower. Interestingly, the researchers reported, “the well-being of men is significantly reduced when housework is done mainly by women, but this is not the case for women.”
Though there were no data to explain why men were happier and less stressed when doing more housework, the researchers have their theories. “Men who leave the chores to women may be subject to more complaints than men who do their share of home chores,” the researchers suggested. “It is also plausible that some men want a more equitable role in the home and their well-being is reduced when the pressure of their jobs gets in the way.”
Scott and Plagnol suspect that men might be more willing to share housework equally if they knew there were benefits to the arrangement.
“Our study points to wider benefits for men who do their fair share of the housework,” they wrote. “Men today play a far greater role in home and child care than their fathers or grandfathers. It might help change move faster if the benefits of a more equitable divide became more widely known.”
Linda Carroll is coauthor of "The Concussion Crisis: Anatomy of a Silent Epidemic."
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