Housekeeping is an arena that houses gendered behavior even today, despite the increasing trend where both the man and the woman of the household work and ‘bring home the bread’. The common myth that men just cannot see the dirt has been busted by a study published in Sociological Methods and Research. This new study attempts to understand the interplay between individual preferences and gender expectations in housework.

Researchers showed hundreds of participants random photos of a cluttered living space. Both men and women found a messy room just as messy and a tidy room just as tidy. On average, men tidy up for 10 minutes every day, but cleaning consumes a third of women’s 1 hour 20 minutes of household chores daily. Why, then, do women clean more? Respondents participating in the study were randomly told whether the messy photo depicted either “John’s” or “Jennifer’s” room. Participants – regardless of gender – held “Jennifer’s” room, even the ‘tidy’ version, to a much higher standard and were more likely to judge “Jennifer” negatively. This suggests that women bear the burden of cleanliness more intensely than men.

Because women and men appear to see the same mess, one hypothesis for the observed difference in cleaning times is that women may more strongly anticipate being judged by their peers, especially by other women. This could cause a cycle of prejudice. Alternatively, women may find cleaning less unpleasant, or perhaps use cleaning as a means of procrastination, where men might not do so. Hopefully future studies will further investigate these questions, as well as confounding factors like work, family, and economic class.

Managing Correspondent: Rhea Grover

 Popular News Article: Men do see the mess – they just aren’t judged for it the way women

Original Scientific Article: Good Housekeeping, Great Expectations: Gender and Housework NormsSAGE Journals

Image Credit: “Cleaning” by John Paul Goguen is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0



12 thoughts on “Dirtiness is perceived by all, cleanliness is pursued by women

  1. Women are judged, for cleaning, cooking, raising kids, etc etc etc. The list is endless. We are far from gender equality.

    1. You’re right, Manika. We are far from gender equality. Men comprise 99% of all combat deaths, are more likely to commit suicide, become homeless, become injured on the job. Intimate partner abuse where the female partner is the abuser occurs at similar rates to male abuse, yet there are only 2 male abuse victim shelters in the entire country. Women are more likely to be admitted to college, and are there are twice as many women admitted to graduate school as there are men. Men can be conscripted to die in battle for their country while women cannot.

      Yes, we are far from gender equality indeed.

  2. I’ve heard this theory before and it’s a plausible hypothesis. Another possibility is that men see the same mess, and as a general matter, it simply bothers them less. I would have to say that in general, there’ve been several women I’ve known through the years who feel this profound, deep-seated irritation and unease with messy surroundings. It seems to be a more prominent trait among females. I’ve not often met a male who reacts with sheer frustration to clutter and general messiness in a house. I think the theory presented above is plausible, but that some inherent differences in prioritization traits between genders is more likely. What I think is interesting is that the “judgmentalness” hypothesis assumes that the study subjects’ bias — in rating the “messiness” of two (female/male) rooms — equals negative judgment in practice. But if you asked the study subject — would you not hang out with or befriend this or that person based on their room’s messiness? — You would probably find that the “messiness-based” judgment is markedly less harsh among men. We generally don’t care if a place is a pig sty. And if it’s a woman’s house, I’d venture to say we’re just happy to be there — dust, dirt and all.

    1. You haven’t met my fiancé lmao. He must get it from his mom because he’s insane about clutter and mess but will not clean it himself, he just complains so much that I got crazy if I don’t do it. It’s usually the bedroom as I spend most of my time cleaning the main rooms.

    2. Bingo, McDoogle. Case in point:

      I go round and round with my wife about this. She claims I’m “blind to messes.” I tell her, “No I’m not. I just don’t care.”

      Hey. She wants to clean, have at it. But I ain’t doing it unless she specifically asks me to, and only if she specifically asks me to.

      I’m the same with “decor.” I make shelves for my dojo office, you could safely climb them like a ladder, or store engine blocks on the damn things. But it never even occurs to me to paint them. When I’ve built them for my wife, she doesn’t care about functionality any further than their supporting a few books and decorative crochet pieces. But she’d rather do without than have shelves that “don’t match.” Don’t match? I don’t even know what the hell she’s talking about.

      The genders are totally different, folks. Pretty much opposites. We are equal IN VALUE, but we’re like two parts of an epoxy: Parts A and B are nothing alike. But they’re equally important, so much so that one is useless without the other. Why people don’t see this is a mystery to me.

  3. The obvious answer is that while men can also see the mess, they care less that it’s there. Women generally speaking have higher levels of natural conscientiousness than men, i’d actually go out on a limb and say the reason men clean even that much is fear of judgement from women or their peers.

  4. L John, I’d like to show you that even though you think that you’re providing a counter argument, whereby men have it worse, you argument really just confirms that women have gotten the raw end of the deal for centuries. Men are the victim of combat deaths because until recently, women weren’t allowed to serve in combat positions and are still exempt from drafts. Men are more likely to commit suicide and experience homelessness because of PTSD (see point above). To your domestic violence point, assault against men is widely underreported, but women are more often the victims of domestic violence. Women are admitted into college and graduate school more than men because they need a degree for a position that a man can get without a degree (see glass ceiling, gender biased hiring practices, etc.). Women are also less likely to be hired for trade positions, and are therefore less likely to get injured on the job. So while men are disproportionately affected by the negative effects that you mentioned, it’s due to centuries of systemic misogyny.

    1. 👏👏👏 The only person here that actually studied this topic and left their bias’ at the door. Every other answer reads very defensive. Thank you mike!!!

  5. Mike’s argument is a really poor, if you are impressed by that tissue full of sophistry, you really might do to add some IQ points. You might as well give up, your human idealism is battling 60,000 or more years of human experience bottled up into instinct, and in short your man made ideals are in conflict with nature and her experience. Nature doesn’t lie, it needs no status or wealth, it’s beautiful , ugly, cruel, and kind, humans do lie, with their spurious reasoning for all types of motives. You think a few centuries of man made erroneous, idealist, and sentimentalist interventions on this subject, can compensate for 60,000 years of passed on practice. To deal with civilisations rises and falls A few battles were won, yet In the long game, the war is already lost, as such human idealism won’t last 1/60th of the time needed to even begin to neutralise and shape men’s and women’s instincts

  6. I just had an argument with my wife because she hates me wearing dirty clothes in the house (the 1000th verbal beating about me not being clean, most of them being after I wash my feet at night and they aren’t clean because I “walked from the bathroom to the bedroom” so she doesn’t want my feet to ever touch her in bed).

    I explained to her that if I had to keep wearing clean clothes inside and dirty clothes outside that I would be changing my clothes many times a day because I’m a man and I go outside and work on the yard and I also do tech and artwork on the computer inside to pay the bills and save for our retirement together. She still got super frustrated and couldn’t bare to be in the same room as me. I realised that I am actually proud of wearing dirty clothes in the house: it shows that I’ve been working hard for our family, that I get dirty because I’m tidying the yard and gardening so that she can relax in a beautiful environment and not have to be obligated to work if she doesn’t want to. It’s her mind that has the issue with dirt as I’m never leaving any furniture or the floor visibly dirty, ever. Tonight I remembered once again that women are different to men.

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