Emasculated Men Refuse to Do Chores—Except Cooking

When their manhood is threatened, men react by doing less housework. The only exception? Meal preparation.

Jo Yong Hak / Reuters

For some men, these are scary times. Men lost jobs in the recession, and women outnumber them on college campuses. (Some are predicting, in fact, that we’re witnessing the end of men.)

As I’ve written, one way some men are responding to their slipping place in the social hierarchy is by supporting Donald Trump, whose rhetoric hearkens to a less progressive, more traditional time.

But another way men react to having their masculinity threatened is stealthier. They do fewer chores, according to an analysis by Dan Cassino, a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and his wife Yasemin Besen-Cassino, from Montclair State University, which relied on the American Time Use Study. According to their findings, men especially avoid housework just when you’d think they would pick up the slack: When they make less than their wives do.

Overall in the U.S., women clean more than men do. American men did an average of 15 minutes of housework each day, while women did 45, the Cassinos write. Most men—77 percent—did no housework on any given day, while most women—55 percent—did at least some.

This is, it’s worth noting, an American rather than global norm. American women tend to do more housework than women in other countries—about four and a half hours each week, on average. “Meanwhile, Spanish women only spend about an hour and a half a week on housework, Brazilian women spend only 1.6 hours a week,” they write. But “French women spend almost no time on housework at all. French men, on the other hand, spend 1.2 hours a week on housework, well more than the .8 hours a week spent by American men.” (Ladies, your secret, s'il vous plaît!) Also, “Japanese and Slovenian men do the most housework, at 1.3 and 1.4 hours a week.”

So already, American men do way less around the house than they should—unlike those glorious French men, who not only know how to make that sexy “r” sound, but also how to pick up a Swiffer every once and a while.

The study authors then sought to determine how an American married couple’s relative salaries would affect their willingness to do chores. As expected, when unemployed, both men and women did slightly more housework. And the more money the wives made, the more the husbands helped out around the house—all good there.

But things change when the wife earns more than the husband. In that case, he does less than he otherwise would. In female-breadwinner households, the greater the income disparity, the less housework the husband does.

From the study:

A wife who earns an extra thousand dollars a week can only expect her husband to do an extra 11 minutes a day of housework if she makes more than he does. If she makes less than he does, adding an extra thousand dollars a week means that he’s going to do an extra 27 minutes of housework a day.

You can see the out-earned husbands (red line) doing relatively less housework compared to the breadwinner husbands (blue line) in this chart:

Minutes Per Day Spent on Housework by Married Men
About Gender 2014

The Cassinos speculate that being out-earned by their wives threatens mens’ masculinity, so they react by doing less cleaning, a stereotypically feminine task. We can imagine these men thinking, “She might earn all the money, but I’m not going to do dishes,” Dan Cassino told me.

Past research by Rutgers psychologists Janell Fetterolf and Laurie Rudman has shown that as men and women make more money, they both feel entitled to do less housework and childcare. But it’s only for men that this entitlement translated to actually taking it easy around the house; women continue to pick up toys and do laundry even if they feel like they shouldn’t have to. And again, those who out-earned their husbands performed more domestic labor than those who earned the same or less than their spouses.

The only exception to this double-injustice? Cooking. In Cassino’s study, between 2002 and 2010, men upped the amount of time they spent cooking each day. And cooking didn’t follow the same gender-threatened trend cooking did: The more their wives earned, the more time the men spent in the kitchen.

As the authors explain:

Men who make less than their wives do a bit more cooking than they would otherwise, and the more money his wife makes, the more cooking a husband is expected to do. The more money his wife makes, the more time a husband spends cooking: about 1 extra minute for every $150 dollars his wife earns in a week.

Meanwhile, as men earn more, women spend less time cooking, at a rate of about 1 minute per $1,000 of weekly income.

Surprisingly, this cooking trend only emerged after 2008. Before the recession, cooking followed the same pattern as housework, with out-earned men doing relatively little of it. “Cooking is not seen as being as intertwined with masculinity as housework,” the Cassinos write. “Preparing food can easily involve the use of specialized equipment and techniques, a craft that men can be proud of their prowess in.”

Cooking, they speculate, has become manly—more of a leisure activity than a chore, and one that can involve flaming-hot meats, no less.

Indeed, in another recent study of men who cook, the participants saw cooking as a type of “work-leisure”—not quite one or the other. The ones who had “few or no childcare responsibilities” were more likely to find it pleasurable, since they “seemed to have more freedom to relax and take their time in the kitchen.”

The post-recession era has coincided with a rise in foodie culture, which might have contributed to men’s growing interest in the culinary arts. Pushing a vacuum cleaner might seem effete to American men, but post an expertly grilled steak on Instagram, and you’re practically Don Draper.

To the Cassinos, the rise of the manly chef might be a sign that eventually cleaning and childcare will become similarly de-gendered. If that’s the case, I’d be ready to angel-invest in a new—and very macho—social-media platform designed for people to brag about washing the sheets without being asked.