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



24 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 agree. Back in the 90’s we somehow felt more gender equal than now. Perhaps it was that I was young and naive. It took me many years to realize all these expectations that women were held to and all the free work we’re expected to provide.

      I see so many women complain about how their husband’s treat them like maids, mothers and prostitutes and I can’t help but think that that’s what they advertised to get them to marry them to begin with. If you don’t want to be a man’s servant, don’t be during the dating stage.

      Just my 2c

  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.

      1. You think because you build shelves you’re her equal? Yet she does all the decorating and cleaning every single day? You build shelves once.


  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.

    1. I applaud you for being a hard working man. Why is it difficult then to take your shoes off at the door, and walk to the bathroom to shower before you do your indoor work. Perhaps you need to manage your time better if you’re constantly going outside then coming back in. Just plan your outdoor work, do that and when you’re finished with that come inside and shower. If it’ll make your wife happy, hence your life easier and happier, why is it so hard for you? Are you sure you’re not passive-aggressive?

    2. Ryan,

      I am actually just like your wife.
      Tell me ,why don’t you buy indoor sandals or flip flops-the type that you can use at the swimmingpool ,water resistant and step in them everytime after shower?

      I for example step in the shower with them and wash them every time i shower myself,so that they can be clean.

      Just simply use indoor footwear.

  7. When I was growing up once we hit about 12 or so my sister and I had to wash dishes (by hand), dry and put away dishes every night. This eventually evolved into me cooking during the week, cleaning the kitchen, ironing, vacuuming, & laundry (no drier). Then in the summer I had to clean the pool, mow and edge the lawn on top of it all. I was told, “When you grow up and get married you can do….”
    My husband well he grew up in a household where he did nothing. His mom told me he would throw all his laundry in the hall when he wanted it done. He would expect her to drop everything when he decided it was time to go shopping. He’s still this way. They lived in a very large house and she cleaned everything. I mean everything. She cleaned up after 3 boys, husband, and a dog. To boot they entertained and threw lots of parties. I grew up in a small house and my parents did not entertain.
    I think the difference between men and women comes down to how we are raised. If men and women were given responsibilities inside and outside the house then couples would have to discuss how chores are split.
    Currently, I do the pool he does the hot tub, we both mow the lawn, we both clean up the yard, but when it comes to inside the house different story. I do all the cooking (he grill), I cook for the puppy too, I do laundry, and clean the kitchen, mop, vacuum, dust, etc. I wash my car he washes his. When it comes to inside the house he makes messes and I’m expected to clean up after him. If I ask him to help I get all kinds of excuses. Even gaslighted; “It’s a one person job.” Childish and disrespectful. The whole landscaping thing is far different from cleaning the house. Nobody is outside throwing trash all over the yard or doing something to make the yard messy. Maintenance of the yard is not caused by man for the most part. I’m certainly not doing things to make the yard a mess. But, inside the house messes are man made or acts of god.
    Tracking dirt, mud, grease, & grass, on the rug and floors because you don’t clean yourself off is inconsiderate. Ever wonder why the rug gets dirty? It’s from the dirt you cannot see. Men don’t know how much work it is to clean the house and they don’t appreciate it.
    For 6 months starting October 1, 2022, women and men should switch rolls. It’s the only way to better understand the other person.
    Why do men think women like to clean? Nobody likes cleaning we like the results.

  8. I think it’s funny how the author used a circus of words to say “but cleaning consumes a third of women’s 1 hour 20 minutes of household chores daily” to compare the 10 minutes of cleaning men do to the 25-30 minutes of cleaning women do. The way she wrote it makes it sound like women do so much more, but 25-30 minutes isn’t all that much more than 10 minutes.

    Also, I wanted to respond to some of Mike’s comments. For combat deaths and drafting women don’t want to be included in the draft and in general don’t want to join the military so I wouldn’t clutch to the idea that men suffer more here because they don’t want women to be included because women don’t want to be included in that either. For domestic violence, both men and women have the propensity and capability to be cruel and terrible people and just as many men as women are victims or abuse and perpetrators or abuse. For trade position, women simply don’t want those jobs in the same numbers that men do. Men have an affinity for working with and fixing things while women are more inclined to work with people so it makes sense that men are more likely to work trade jobs which by nature are more dangerous than jobs women tend to go after and therefore more likely to result in injury or death. When L. John brought up these points I took as him pointing out some areas where men’s hardships are overlooked because the difficulties men go through in their lives are quite often overlooked and trivialized. Both genders experience life very differently from the other and in no way are they equal. Women have privileges men don’t and vice versa, while women struggle in ways men don’t and vice versa.

  9. I personally believe that this is due to society’s standards typically the woman does the cooking and cleaning and the man brings in the money but this isn’t necessarily true in all cases I believe that if we just simply make it more common for both genres to play both roles this statistic would disappear

  10. I am a woman but COMPLETELY understand the average man’s perspective here. Because in my last relationship he was the one who was WAY neater than I was. I mean, I clean up my space and do dishes, laundry and vacuum on a twice weekly basis, but my ex wanted to have certain color towels, or fabric of pillowcase go in certain places- kind of neat. And no stray dish in the sink-ever. And no using certain glasses unless for certain events. And no getting the napkins messy. There were SO many rules, that memorizing them was so exhausting to me, and my violation of “basic cleanliness” so offensive to him. He was not hypocritical. He really did live by his rules and did a lot of housework. I asked him to write down all my violations on sticky notes, and we stuck sticky notes literally on EVERYTHING. I wanted to cry. He wanted to cry. We sat down and tried to prioritize, to narrow it down to the top 125 items and ultimately realized we could not live together unless in a duplex or something.
    In the end I remember the feeling of walking on eggshells waiting for someone to get mad because I forgot one of the 500 items I should have remembered. I could always tell a mess from his perspective, but it’s just overwhelming to my brain to try to digest ALL that information. I made my own checklists, in almost every room. People really have only so many mental “spoons”, as they say, and I did not have the mental capacity to perfectly memorize these things and work a full time job. It took a long time for him to realize I wasn’t purposefully doing mistakes when I would mess up. I felt bad for him because really I could understand his perspective. But I also remember feeling really like a jerk, a burden, or a sloppy oaf to him, even when I was doing my absolute best. We amicably parted, completely understanding the other but not able to accept that way of life.

    My current boyfriend does a lot of chores and has sole custody of his kid. However, at one point he invited me into his house and apologized for the mess of clothes on the floor, dishes in the sink, etc. I felt a rush of relief and wanted to kiss him with gratitude for being a bit messy just like me. ❤️

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