Column: Men, women and the enigma of housework

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 19, 2007

By Tom Purcell, Mr. No Name

Get this: Married men do less housework than fellows who cohabitate.

A study by George Mason University and North Carolina State University found the following:

Email newsletter signup

– Cohabiting men do more housework than married men.

– Cohabiting women do less housework than married women.

– Cohabiting men do less housework than cohabiting women.

And married men, the sexist Neanderthal oppressors, do less housework than everybody.

Shannon Davis, an assistant professor of sociology at George Mason and the study&8217;s lead author, summed up her findings:

&8220;Beliefs about this egalitarian notion of women and men sharing equal responsibility for paid work and household tasks matter differently for cohabiting men than it does for married men.&8221;

I&8217;m no sociologist, but I think I know why. Men generally cohabitate so they can get the goodies of marriage (you know) without the hassles (commitment, in-laws, binding legal contracts).

Men may not be the sharpest knives in the gender-identity drawer, but the cohabiting ones are smart enough to figure one thing out: If they pretend to have an egalitarian view toward housework, they&8217;re going to get a lot more of the goodies of marriage.

But men hate housework. We&8217;re not good at it. We don&8217;t care if food is rotting in the refrigerator or a spider’s nest has formed behind the dresser. We only care if women care. That is why, says P.J. O&8217;Rourke, we clean our place about once every girlfriend.

And that&8217;s what is missing in the housework study. It overlooks a very important consideration:

Men and women are different.

Michael Gurian, author of &8220;What Could He Be Thinking? How a Man&8217;s Mind Really Works,&8221; told me why. After examining decades of neurobiological research &8212; he compared radioactive and magnetic imaging of male and female brains &8212; he was able to show that the male and female noggins are entirely different.

Take listening. One brain-imaging study shows that men listen with only one side of the brain, whereas women use both. Women wouldn&8217;t believe how many other things we use only half a brain to do.

Another brain study shows that women can listen to two separate conversations, whereas men can barely follow one (particularly if it involves feelings or the spring sale at Bed Bath & Beyond).

The male brain doesn&8217;t pick up as many sensory cues as a woman&8217;s. When a man walks into his home, his senses don&8217;t gather what a woman&8217;s will. A man is less likely to notice dust &8212; which, apparently, consists of fine, dry particles that settle on furniture.

The male mind doesn&8217;t care as much about the inside of the house as the outside. Our noggins are wired for larger spaces, such as the garage, the driveway, the yard.

Sure, some men are neat freaks and homebodies and some women are sloppy and couldn&8217;t care less about the inside of their homes. But where biology is concerned, the male and female brains are different.

But the housework study isn&8217;t so interested in biological truths. It is more interested in one of its key findings: that the institution of marriage appears to change the division of household labor.

In married relationships, even if an egalitarian viewpoint is present, men still report doing less housework than their wives, says Davis.

&8220;Marriage as an institution seems to have a traditionalizing effect on couples &8212; even couples who see men and women as equal,&8221; she says.

In other words, marriage itself is the reason women are forced to pick up stinky socks and wipe up the slop in the kitchen after dinner.

Marriage itself is some kind of gender factory that indoctrinates kids into believing that Mommy is supposed to do all the dirty work, while Daddy sits on the couch watching football and sucking down beer.

Gurian doesn&8217;t agree. He said if the study had compared couples with kids who have cohabitated for 10 years against couples with kids who have been married for 10 years, there likely wouldn&8217;t be much difference.

The housework gender gap has more to do with biology than marriage. Still, men should work harder at housework.

At the very least, we could pretend to notice dust every once in a while.

Tom Purcell is a humor columnist nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons. For comments to Tom, please e-mail him at