How Can Guys Be So Lazy Around the House?
By Bryan Caplan
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.