Why It Matters That Young Men Don’t Vacuum

I am always surprised to see research showing that the attitudes of young men about gender equality in the home are not changing. Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times writes that “young people today have become much more open-minded about gender roles . . . in politics and sports . . . [but] they are holding on to traditional views about who does what at home.”

Miller cites a new Gallup survey of opposite-sex couples ages eighteen to thirty-four that found no difference between the younger couples and older ones about how indoor chores like cooking and cleaning are divided. This longitudinal survey, or a survey that is repeated over time, shows that “women now do a little less housework and childcare, and men do a little more. But a significant gap remains.” For example,

  • Women spend about one hour more a day than men on housework.
  • Women also spend about one hour more a day than men on childcare.

Miller notes that, like me, researchers are surprised that home life doesn’t look that different for young people than it did fifty years ago. They are surprised because attitudes about gender roles have changed in so many other ways:

  • There is now almost universal support for women to pursue careers or political office.
  • Women get more education than men.
  • Young people are much more accepting of gender-fluid identities—when people do not identify as either a woman or man.

What could be keeping the gender inequality in the home in place? Here are several possible factors:

  • Some traditional norms are reinforced in childhood. In a previous article, I wrote about research showing that boys are not required to do as many chores as girls are as children.
  • Miller notes that masculinity is strongly tied to earning an income and avoiding all things considered feminine.
  • Studies have shown that men can feel threatened if their wives earn more than them.

Miller did report on some positive changes in attitudes about gender roles in the longitudinal studies:

  • The biggest change has been among white men—one in six now say they prefer a traditional marriage, while a majority said this in 1976.
  • Young people whose mothers work full time are more likely to want a similar arrangement.

Not surprisingly, Miller reports that black women have been most in favor of dual-earner arrangements throughout the years of the longitudinal research.

Miller concludes that the disparity in time spent on household chores and childcare impacts women’s careers and “is a leading cause of the gender gaps in pay and promotions at work. . . . Making relationships more equal inside the home could have far-reaching effects outside of it, too.” Amen.


Photo courtesy of indy138 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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