Why Women Still Do the Wash

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In the modern household, married couples are supposed to share chores, not along traditional lines, but in the spirit of equality. And the partner who makes the most money gets preferential treatment in the chore department.

Not so, according to new research. Women are tethered to cooking and the wash. Men do outdoor chores. How little has changed with sexual equality.

According to “Making Money, Doing Gender, or Being Essentialist? Partner Characteristics and Americans’ Attitudes Toward Housework,” published in Science Daily and authored by Natasha Quadlin, a doctoral student in sociology at Indiana University, and Long Doan, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, among heterosexual couples:

Nearly three quarters of our respondents thought that the female partners in heterosexual couples should be responsible for cooking, doing laundry, cleaning the house, and buying groceries. In addition, nearly 90 percent of our respondents thought that heterosexual men should be responsible for automobile maintenance and outdoor chores. Regardless of the partner’s relative income or gendered hobbies and interests, our respondents gravitated toward the person’s sex instead.


When respondents were asked to assign tasks between same-sex partners, traditionally female chores were generally given to the more feminine partner, and traditionally male tasks were typically assigned to the more masculine partner. According to the researchers, 66 percent of respondents believed the more feminine partner should be responsible for buying groceries, 61 percent felt that partner should cook, and 58 percent thought that partner should clean the house and do the laundry. On the other hand, 67 percent of respondents believed that the more masculine partner should handle automobile maintenance and outdoor chores.


Women in heterosexual relationships were also expected to handle the majority of childcare tasks. Eighty-two percent of respondents said the female partner should be responsible for the children’s physical needs, 72 percent thought she should take care of the children’s emotional needs, and 62 percent believed the woman should be the stay-at-home parent. Male partners were assigned only one childcare task by a majority of respondents: 55 percent felt the man should be in charge of discipline.

The more things change, the more they are the same.

Methodology: The study examined responses from a nationally representative survey of more than 1,000 adults in 2015 to determine which characteristics, including relative income, masculine or feminine traits and sex, shape Americans’ ideas about how married couples should divide household labor — indoor and outdoor chores, as well as childcare. Each respondent was randomly assigned a description of a heterosexual or same-sex couple. The description included information about each partner’s occupation and income, as well as his or her hobbies and interests, which cued whether the partner had traditionally masculine or feminine traits. The respondents also received a list of chores and childcare-related tasks to assign between the two partners.