In honor of “Equal Pay Day” and the present discussion regarding the differences in the ways men and women work and are compensated outside of the home, I think it’s also vital to consider the differences inside the home. While lawmakers are exploring the reasons behind women making “76 cents to the dollar” in wages that men make, shouldn’t we also explore the reasons why women are still completing more than two thirds of household chores, even when they also hold full-time jobs?
The issues behind the concept of equal pay are complex, and the “76 cents” argument doesn’t tell the whole story. Yes, there has been documented pay discrimination, where women are paid less for the same position. But that discrimination seems to only account for a small percentage of the average pay difference. More of the difference is a result of women working fewer hours and accepting jobs in lower-paying fields.
But why might women be likely to work fewer hours and choose less-demanding lower-paying jobs? Responsibilities in the home, of course! So if the goal of Equal Pay Day is really to increase the earnings of women, then perhaps it should focus on getting men to share household responsibilities more equally.
Asking men to do this, however, might be even more complicated than passing equal pay legislation. Despite huge recent changes in many aspects of gender norms, they persist. And a study published in January of this year highlighted the way gender norms are connected to housework and (*gulp*) sex…
“Husbands who do a lot of cooking, cleaning, laundry and other traditionally female forms of housework may do their marriages some good — but, contrary to popular belief, they are not rewarded with more sex, a new study finds.”
This was the intro to USA Today’s article about research published in the American Sociological Review. Based on internet chatter and suggestive headlines, it seems many men took this as a call to avoid cooking and cleaning. But before we move backwards in time toward the 85%-15% housework split of 1965, let’s look more closely at the facts.
This was a correlational study. For those of us who have not brushed up on our data analysis terminology recently, co-relation simply means that factors change together. It does not mean that one causes an other. For example, when people drink more water on average, they also eat more ice cream. Water consumption and ice cream consumption are correlated. Do you think drinking water causes anyone to eat more ice cream? Probably not. A more likely explanation is that hot weather is the cause of increased consumption of water and ice cream both. So in this study, the researchers found that couples where men cooked and cleaned more also had less sex on average, but there is nothing to indicate that the chores were the cause of the sex reduction. Many authors have suggested other possible causes, such as that men who are more stereo-typically masculine are less likely to cook and more likely to initiate sex a lot, or that women who have a lot of energy are doing lots of cooking and cleaning and having a lot of sex. Who knows? But the point is, there’s nothing to indicate that cooking or cleaning will cause a man to have less sex. Also, it’s important to note that the data used in the study were from 20 years ago. Some scientists don’t think that matters, but others think it matters a great deal.
A completely different way to frame the study’s findings is in terms of marital happiness. Sure, the more egalitarian couples reported a lower frequency of sex, but they reported great levels of marital satisfaction. Maybe sex is more about quality than quantity? Maybe more modern couples express love and connection more easily in non-sexual ways, and therefore have more satisfaction with less intercourse? Again, who knows. But if you’re a man who cooks, and you’ve got a happy, satisfied wife, you’re probably doing things right.
The popular voice of the internet says that men who cook are sexy, and I couldn’t agree more. The way to my heart is through my stomach, and my husband must have known this when, 12 years ago, he invited me over to listen to Erykah Badu’s live album and cooked me dinner. I was hooked. And few things make me more thankful to be his wife than coming home to a hearty breakfast after a long morning run. Stereotypes and studies aside, you gotta love a man who cooks!
Note: In reading about men cooking, I found this organization, http://www.realmencook.com that is worth checking out. Support them if you can!