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



8 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.

  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!!!

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