The secret to male happiness lies in domestic chores

Breaking news from the realm of awesomeness. Guess what a new study suggests is linked to male happiness and contentment? Bigger paycheck? Faster car? Boobies?

Nope. According to this article, “an intriguing new study suggests that men are happier and less stressed when they do more of the housework.” The authors designed the study to test their hypothesis that doing more of the housework would make men less happy. (Many men find housework demeaning, apparently – since it’s ladybusiness.) But instead they found the opposite was the case.

We can’t say for sure, of course, what explanatory factors underlie these results, but the authors of the study speculate: “Men who leave the chores to women may be subject to more complaints than men who do their share of home chores.” (Though you’ve got to worry a little about the gender-norms implicit in this explanation – i.e., dudes are happier if they can finally get some peace from that relentlessly nagging woman of theirs!) And also, perhaps more interestingly, the authors comment: “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.” (Though if I had to speculate about the correlation between housework and happiness based on the experience of my own household, it would be something more like: men enjoy the intense feelings of moral superiority they get from having done the dishes THE RIGHT WAY.) Whatever the explanation, though, the results are interesting.

Get scrubbing, gentlemen! We only care about your happiness.


(Thanks for the tip, J!)

22 thoughts on “The secret to male happiness lies in domestic chores

  1. My husband is such a wonderful cook and takes pride in it. Whenever friends come to eat at our place, they are envious that I can enjoy exquisite Indian, Malaysian, Italian and French cuisine all in the same week without having to eat out. I don’t nag, and he doesn’t gloat. It just works extremely well out for us this way.

  2. My immediate reaction was to email this to my girlfriend. I wonder what that says about me…

  3. Some years ago I read a study that said that couples that were the happiest about house-hold duties were ones where the woman in the couple did somewhat more than half of the housework (between 55-60% tops) but where they both _thought_ the work was equally shared. (The study looked pretty carefully at what people actually did, both in terms of time spent and “objective” measure of the difficulty of various tasks- obviously that will always be somewhat loose- and then talked with the people about how equal they thought the split was.) I have tried to use this result to suggest to my wife that she should do a bit more of the housework, and I will call it equal, but she doesn’t seem willing to go along.

  4. I didn’t track down the original source or anything, but it doesn’t sound like they did much to find evidence for direction of causation, instead of just correlation. If that’s right, it seems like a more plausible explanation is that good work–life balance makes people happier, and for the men in their sample, doing more housework is a sign of better work–life balance.

  5. I recall that Alasdair MacIntyre wrote something in After Virtue about how men’s lack of involvement in the work of the household deprives them of a feeling of deep connection with family life (and, hence, affects their wellbeing). I would hope that something like this is behind the findings, rather than the “wives don’t nag husbands who do chores” hypothesis.

  6. It might be an issue of a kind of control. Cleaning out a messy drawer, for example, can help with feeling depressed. Getting more of a handle on their environment might help men.

    Quasi-pun intended.

  7. “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.”

    I think there’s an option being missed there, namely that some (perhaps many) men who do little or no housework really do not want to do it, and yet would be happier if they did. I suspect there’s lots of satisfaction to be had by being an equal participant in the household, but one might not realise that until one gives it a serious try.

  8. Jeff, I of course agree that the study doesn’t seem to have established direction of explanation. But I’m wondering why you think it’s a *more plausible* explanation that doing more housework is just a sign of better work-life balance – especially given how gendered our expectations about housework are. There’s plenty of data to suggest that even in cases where male and female partners are working similar hours, earning similar amounts of money, etc, the woman is (significantly) more likely to do the bulk of the housework. And I doubt those statistics can be explained merely by the men somehow having a poorer work-life balance than the women (in a way that isn’t captured by hours worked, income, etc). So I’m curious why you think the most plausible explanation for these results has to do with work-life balance.

  9. My take on housework is that I generally avoid it as far as possible, but when I do it,
    I enjoy it more than I expect. There’s a fulfillment involved in seeing things get neater or cleaner; and physical activity, even non-strenuous physical activity such as most housework, elevates my spirits. Then there’s the sense of having accomplished something tangible, which often is missing in the so-called life of the mind.

    In fact, I’d probably feel better if I clean the computer now, rather than read another
    intellectual article which I think that I should read, but actually, says nothing new.

    (I live alone)

  10. Here are a few more interpretations of this data:
    – Possibly valuing equality is happiness-inducing? Possibly people who value equality are happier and tend to be in equal relationships (on this interpretation, the phenomenon is due to a correlation not a causation).
    – Possibly equality is happiness-inducing. Possibly people in equal relationships are happier and people in equal relationships do roughly the same amount of housework (this interpretation is subtly but crucially distinct from the one above).
    – Possibly being competent (and being perceived to be competent) is satisfying and happiness inducing.
    – Possibly doing small practical tasks is satisfying and happiness-inducing (possibly especially when they relate to one’s sustenance).
    – Possibly people who don’t do their fair share of housework feel guilty? (I don’t know the type, so this is a wild guess.)
    Obviously these interpretations aren’t mutually exclusive.

  11. I love to cook, and don’t regard it as drudgery at all. (Dusting and sweeping–well, don’t expect my house to look spotless; I am entropy-friendly.) What I know is that my life would be pretty dreary without that particular daily challenge. One reason (more prominent issues aside) my marriage ended is that my ex was an excellent cook and I could not get a word in edgewise, so to speak. I very much wanted to cook but was generally shut out of the process (ok, I was a great sous-chef). So now I cook for myself–yes, full meals and just for me (from scratch mac and cheese to chocolate-chip cheesecake to lamb champvillon)–and for friends when they are available. This daily challenge is a pivot to my day around which everything else swings–though, as I have confessed elsewhere–I also sometimes cook in my Bruce persona, in which I imagine doing an Aussie philosophically-themed cooking show called “Bachelor Fodder”, narrating each step of the process and related to philosophy (e.g., chopping onions into near-Democritean bits). This is probably too much info–but I bet a lot of people are like me, strongly identified with certain quotidian activities that comfort the psyche yet challenge the simple will to do them every day.

  12. Another possible explanation: sharing household chores could mean that partners understand each other’s lives better, which would allow them to be more appreciative of each other, and generally closer. One of the many, many costs of strictly gendered roles is that the work of the other remains mysterious and virtually unimaginable. Throw in the devaluing of the work that women traditionally have done, and it becomes virtually unimaginable qua work. I think my dad always thought my mom had it pretty easy — after all, the house was always clean and the kids (all nine!) were always well-behaved. How hard could running that kind of household be?

  13. ajfifth- that’s a really good point. Sharing chores probably does increase mutual understanding in ways which neither person could predict beforehand.

    (Mind you, in my delightfully single-sex household we each get intense feelings of moral superiority from doing the dishes in the correct way. And I still have no idea why my partner washes the dishes in the obviously wrong way she does. In relation to laundry, though, I’m not interested in mutual understanding – nobody does laundry but me, because I’m right.)

  14. Heg, your feelings about dishwashing sound oh-so-familiar. Just to be clear – I didn’t mean to seriously imply that the RIGHT WAY attitude is a gendered one. I was just using the post as an excuse to publicly tease ersatz-partner about his chore-superiority complex.

  15. Oh, I totally know that!! I was just using the post to tease Heg-partner about her inability to do laundry correctly… :)

  16. I’ve always done housework. My mom taught my brother and I how to cook once we were big enough to use the stove safely. (My sisters too.) She’d ask what we wanted to cook (from her approved list, of course), buy the supplies, and then supervise our efforts. We learned how to cook a lot of our favorite dishes when we were kids. We had to clean up the kitchen, too. Teaches you to clean as you cook. We had to wash our own clothes. If we wanted to wear clean clothes, she would say, we would clean them. We did, so we did. I now do all the cooking in my home. I plan the week’s menu, clip coupons, go to the grocery store. I clean the kitchen and do the dishes. My wife does the laundry. She insists, for some reason, though I don’t really put up much of a fight. I think she shares Heg’s outlook here. We share general household cleaning and yard duties, and usually do them together. I’ve got nothing to compare my situation to, since I’ve always done this work, but I certainly don’t resent any of it. Even if I didn’t get some pleasure from a lot of it, it just seems like stuff I ought to do for us and our home.

  17. I can’t find the article now, but just last year there was an interesting spate of stories about a large study of marriages and divorces between couples in the business sector. Some of the women said that they divorced because their husbands had become like just another child to pick up after, and in the same study, some of the men said their wives had become like nagging mothers. It was really depressing, but contained obvious seeds of hope, since if the couples had just intentionally “halved it all,” they might have been happier indefinitely. All this is to say that yes, perhaps the happiness-data above is just a wee bit spurious because the “happy” men are those who aren’t in relationships involving longstanding and ever-growing resentments.

    As always when we cover such topics, I wish to tell readers that Francine Deutsch’s book made my life better:

  18. magicalersatz—That’s a really good point, about gendered imbalance of housework even when career demands are balanced. But I think it’s compatible with the suggestion. I was guessing that work–life balance was an important factor that accounted for housework differences between men in their sample. But other factors—like gendered expectations—might be much more important in explaining the housework differences between women and men. (And still other factors are probably even more important in explaining housework differences between people of different cultures or times.)

    (By the way, I said “more plausible”, but I guess it’s not much different from one of the explanations you originally quoted: “their well-being is reduced when the pressure of their jobs gets in the way”.)

  19. What’s wrong with the explanation that men who do more housework are subject to less nagging? Is it anti-feminist to portray women as nagging when their partners don’t do their fair share of housework? I nag because I am a feminist, and like my grandmother told me, I don’t let my husband off the hook when he fails. If he did his fair share, I would nag less, and I would be much happier because I wouldn’t be as stressed-out. I can’t relax when the dishes are piled up or the baby needs to be fed. You can’t just not do the dishes or not bathe the baby because then it just gets worse. Procrastinating with housework does not create less work, as it sometimes does with employed work. Keeping up with your responsibilities is required of an adult, and I pride myself on having my shit together and being pulled together. IIt would be easier for me in the short run to just do it all instead of putting “follow up on dishes” on my to-do list, but my inner feminist says “hell no.” It pisses me off when I spend the whole evening doing chores and childcare while my husband plays video games. read recently that nagging is the number one cause of divorce, and I wondered if it was really laziness on the part of one partner and resentment on the part of the other. I went to the internet looking for somebody to say that men still need to pick up the slack at home and women shouldn’t have to nag, but instead all I find is Biblical misogyny about how women are supposed to be subservient, hard-working and enthusiastically sexual toward their fat, lazy drunk partners.

  20. Yeah, right? K, see comment #17 above, because I think that was, indeed, the upshot of the study of couples in business who divorced: Women nagged for the justified reason that their husbands were not doing half the work, and men resented the nagging. Resentment + resentment then led to divorce.

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