Bryan Caplan  

How Can Guys Be So Lazy Around the House?

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The Economist blog shares one of its "favourite strategies for ramping down the gender war":

Men don't need to do more housework and childcare to achieve equality. Women just need to do less. My dad used to change the oil in our family cars. I certainly don't. I suffer exactly zero shame from the fact that I don't even know how. There are specialists who do this sort of thing. Real women's liberation and gender equality will come when social expectations shift enough to allow families to guiltlessly take full advantage of the returns to specialisation.
But why did a gender war arise in the first place? In my view, it is largely a case of misplaced resentment. When women see how little housework men do, they interpret it as "shirking" - a willful violation of basic norms of decency. Men, in turn, feel unfairly maligned by the accusation (or, perhaps more often, by the stink eye).

Who is right? Let me just throw away any future career in couples counseling, and say: Usually, men.

The evidence: Look at the typical bachelor's apartment. Even when a man pays the full cost of cleanliness and receives the full benefit, he doesn't do much. Why not? Because the typical man doesn't care very much about cleanliness. When the bachelor gets married, he almost certainly starts doing more housework than he did when he was single. How can you call that shirking?

I would take the woman's side if the guy actually agreed to adopt her standards. But few marriage contracts are so explicit. All that well-meaning spouses can usually do is adhere to vague norms of decency, such as the Golden Rule. The problem with applying the Golden Rule to housework is that most men already give their wives at least as much help as they would like to receive themselves.

Declaring the typical man to be innocent of the accusations against him may not seem very helpful. But it is. If you think that someone is willfully shirking, you probably won't bother to bargain for better behavior. The shirker has already broken his word once; why should you believe he'll change? In contrast, if you can accept that a person is living up to his obligations as he understands them, it's a lot easier to amicably renegotiate. Furthermore, as some fascinating research shows, the hardest problems to cope with are those you blame on other people. The false belief that your spouse is taking advantage of you isn't just bad for your marriage; it's bad for you.


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The author at lust for life in a related article titled ‘how can guys be so lazy around the house?’ writes:
    Bryan Caplan says he doesn’t understand how a gender war arose among housework: In my view, it is largely a case of misplaced resentment. When women see how little housework men do, they interpret it as “shirking” — a willful vi... [Tracked on January 24, 2008 7:13 AM]
COMMENTS (13 to date)
Barkley Rosser writes:

Well, when I was in my first marriage (hack, cough), my then wife used to criticize vigorously the quality of housework that I would attempt to do to please her. This led to me being rather disincentivized to do it. Of course, this was one of the factors that, well...

Carson Hamel writes:

I believe that the article is very true. Males don't have the same need to be tidy as females do. I don't think that females in turn realize this. The female role models that I have experienced in my life time do expect males to do more around the house on top of what they already do. The only problem is that sometimes it seems like they don't do much because they don't do as much as the males in the 1950's did when they can pay people to do it for them. In turn not many people can afford to hire a maid to clean up after their husbands. Saying thats tuff luck and males are just lucky and don't need to clean up should also be thought of as something the male should have to get over and suck it up every now and then without being asked to. It would make the females in their lives feel less like a maid and more like a spouse. Not all marriages are failures so their has to be a happy medium.

Babinich writes:
Males don't have the same need to be tidy as females do.

I'll take it a step further; men feel privileged. A majority of my gender feels that someone else will pick up after them.

Case and point: a men's locker room at a health club. Towels laying all over, benches and chairs twisted and turned for convenience but never returned to their original position, men using shaving creme in the steam room after repeated warnings to the contrary, and the topper of them all: leaving the sink filthy after shaving.

I've been in a number of different clubs over the years and in general men fail to pick up after themselves.

Mason writes:

First of all I love that you linked to urban dictionary.

And second, I very much agree. I am currently living with 3 other guys are while our filth tolerance differs, we all have a much higher tolerance than my girlfriend who occasionally reminds me that my house is disgusting.

On a side note the two of us who like to keep the house semi-clean have stopped nagging the other two and started charging $10 a month to do basic vacuuming and sweeping.

George writes:

Men typically do 50% of the housework that actually needs to be done.

This means women do 75%-90% of the housework that they think needs to be done.

Rimfax writes:

Could it be that part of the problem is that men think more economically (exchange, reciprocation) and women think more cooperatively (helping, nurturing) in relationships?

See http://www.psy.fsu.edu/~baumeistertice/goodaboutmen.htm

So, yes, men tend not to be triggered to clean as readily as women, but the problem doesn't end there. Women see the lack of motivation borne of this lack of a trigger as a failure to cooperate. Men see the accusation of noncooperation as an economic threat and feel resentful of the perceived accusation that they aren't reciprocating.

In other words, a cognitive gender difference creates the motivational disparity and a different cognitive gender difference turns that into a communication failure.

Mason writes:

"Men typically do 50% of the housework that actually needs to be done."

This may be true, but I can easily see how it wouldn't be.

If your wife naturally vacuums when the carpet is x dirty and you naturally vaccum when the capet is x+10 dirty, you'll never vacuum unless nagged.

Also great discussion of this at MR and MM

Mike writes:

Every time Bryan posts on relationship/gender-issues and I read comments, I can’t help feeling like I’m from a different planet. Or, maybe, that I have walked into a room where my father and his generation discusses relationships. Being 27, perhaps I have, err, actually “walked into a room” where my fathers generation are discussing relationships.

Hence, I have a very hard time believing that these differences in attitudes and behaviour have their main explanation in biological gender-differences. I think it is social norms, culture (and a generational issue).

As an example, given the very large differences between e.g. northern Europe (where I live) and southern Europe on these issues, I don’t see how this can be explained by biology. Or for that matter the difference between northern Europe and many parts of the US.

So, if it is a cognitive gender difference as someone suggested, these difference would rather be due to culture. And hence, something that will change with time.

Eric Hanneken writes:
A majority of my gender feels that someone else will pick up after them. Case and point: a men's locker room at a health club.

Too true, but how does it compare to the women's locker room?

randy writes:

no wonder i can't get a girlfriend. i mostly blame it on the women. if it's more difficult to solve a problem you blame on other people...well now i see.

plus, if you ever, ever play Dungeons & Dragons, the women can smell it on you twenty years later.

amenophisv writes:

Men are generally more "libertarian", women are more "communal" - think "from each according to ability/to each according to needs". The difference is likely evolutionary - driven by child rearing.

This is key to your discussion: men think they should be compensated for good behavior. Women do not think "trade" is appropriate way to approach marriage.

Conversing about the same things using very different frameworks of analysis inevitably leaves both parties frustrated.

JmZ writes:

In my experience, men usually have a certain “place” for everything; this place may not necessarily be the “proper place” as women view it. Men also have the tendency of a proper way to do things that often times leads to the reason of why a certain item is in a certain place. Add into this mix that people often view others as they view themselves which may leave one with expectations of their mate that they have for themselves. However, if we accept people for who they are we can better understand them which may allow us to communicate more effectively what our needs or expectations are. Or, we can just convince women to lower their expectations of us to a point that regardless of what we do, they will be happy that we are at least doing something.

Parker writes:

in the statment "males dont have the same need to be tidy as women do" is a very true statemtent. not once have i come across a male that is more clean than a female. when walking into a males dorm room rather then a girls what you see is two different types of rooms. when married males tend to have to adapt to the women's style and how she keeps the house. so i have to agree with that statement because men are not as tidy as women are and they do have to adapt to the females desires of cleaning when they get married.

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