America may be on the verge of having its first female president, but the public's attitudes about gender roles—at least when it comes to housework—are still quite retrograde.
A new survey of 1,000 adults, from an as-yet unpublished, study presented at the American Sociological Association, shows how gender stereotypes play out. Each participant was randomly assigned a description of a couple, either same-sex or different-sex. They were given details about the couple, including income, occupation, hobbies, and interests—all proxies for traditionally masculine or feminine traits.
Nearly 90% thought that the heterosexual man should take care of car maintenance and outdoor chores, according to lead author Natasha Quadlin of Indiana University. Meanwhile, nearly 75% thought the female partner should take care of cooking, laundry, groceries, and cleaning chores (a list that seems like a lot more daily work than the men's chores). This happened even when the female member of the couple had a high-earning job.
"Even if women have higher earnings than their husbands," said Qaudlin in a news release, "they are expected to come home and perform a second shift of chores and child care."
What was really most surprising was how people reacted to descriptions of same-sex couples, which shows how deeply ingrained most stereotypes are. In these cases, people relied on their perceptions of each partners femininity or masculinity to answer the questions about chore assignments. Thus, 62% of respondents thought that the more feminine partner should do the child care-related chores, and 66% thought they should also be buying the groceries. The more feminine partner was also saddled with cooking, cleaning the house and doing the laundry. The more masculine partner got away with outdoor chores and fixing the car, with 67% of respondents assigning them those tasks.
The survey respondents themselves were mostly heterosexual (92%), Quadlin told Co.Exist in an email, so it's hard to say whether same-sex couples themselves would divide tasks in those same ways. That said, it seems that there really isn’t much difference in attitudes between homo- and heterosexual attitudes.
"Given the small number of gays and lesbians who participated in the study, we aren't able to definitively compare gay and lesbian attitudes toward housework with heterosexual attitudes toward housework," said Quadlin. "However, the limited responses we do have from gays and lesbians don't differ substantially from that of heterosexuals."
This isn’t really that surprising. After all, we all grew up in the same cross-section of households. Whether we’re gay or straight, our parents would have split chores according to the same tired old stereotypes, and like it or not, we all tend to emulate our parents’ behavior.
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