‘how can guys be so lazy around the house?’

Bryan Caplan says he doesn’t understand how a gender war arose among housework:

In my view, it is largely a case of misplaced resentment. When women see how little housework men do, they interpret it as “shirking” — a willful violation of basic norms of decency. Men, in turn, feel unfairly maligned by the accusation (or, perhaps more often, by the stink eye).

Who is right? Let me just throw away any future career in couples counseling, and say: Usually, men.

The evidence: Look at the typical bachelor’s apartment. Even when a man pays the full cost of cleanliness and receives the full benefit, he doesn’t do much. Why not? Because the typical man doesn’t care very much about cleanliness. When the bachelor gets married, he almost certainly starts doing more housework than he did when he was single. How can you call that shirking?

I would take the woman’s side if the guy actually agreed to adopt her standards. But few marriage contracts are so explicit. All that well-meaning spouses can usually do is adhere to vague norms of decency, such as the Golden Rule. The problem with applying the Golden Rule to housework is that most men already give their wives at least as much help as they would like to receive themselves.

Declaring the typical man to be innocent of the accusations against him may not seem very helpful. But it is. If you think that someone is willfully shirking, you probably won’t bother to bargain for better behavior. The shirker has already broken his word once; why should you believe he’ll change? In contrast, if you can accept that a person is living up to his obligations as he understands them, it’s a lot easier to amicably renegotiate. Furthermore, as some fascinating research shows, the hardest problems to cope with are those you blame on other people. The false belief that your spouse is taking advantage of you isn’t just bad for your marriage; it’s bad for you.

Megan McArdle has a different take, but as a well-known slob, I agree with Caplan.

7 comments to ‘how can guys be so lazy around the house?’

  • themofo

    My girlfriend and I have had this exact argument several times, me contending that women simply have higher expectations of cleanliness. (I may have used the phrase ‘lower tolerance for disorder,’ which she didn’t appreciate…) But I think Caplan’s point has a lot of validity– unless, of course, my girlfriend is reading this comment, in which case I disagree with him entirely.

  • Non-proto-feminist and social theorist Laura Kipnis (whose earlier book “Against Love” I found hugely thought-provoking) has theorized that that the reason women are so obsessed with cleaning has to do with menstruation taboos. Like studies have found that if a woman study participant “inadvertently” drops a tampon from her purse, people will sit further away from her than if she drops a hair clip. And contamination studies have shown two-thirds of people “were unwilling to put a new, unused, and previously wrapped tampon in their mouth.”

    “If women didn’t have vaginas,” Kipnis goes on to speculate, “would we take fewer bubble baths, be less susceptible to the newest cleaning product marketing campaign, let up on the cleaning standards (for those prone to occupying the household enforcer role), and simply not do more than 50 percent of the housework?

    Not being a woman, I don’t know if this is true or not, but it’s certainly a provocative theory. Another reason more women should be taking Lybrel!

  • For what its worth, I have an OCD-like obsession with doing dishes and cleaning the toilet… I’ve not made a bed or pushed a vacuum in years. Fair trade I’d say.

  • I wonder if I’m the exception to the rule.I clean the house (mostly vaccum) every weekend. My wife has enough to do,
    Thanks,
    Drew

  • Linga

    F@*U Guys & Your PERIOD, PRE-PERIOD, POST-PERIOD BS!
    U GIVE US 1 WEEK A MONTH OFF!
    AND U DON’T EVEN KNOW WHEN IT IS!
    MEN JUST NEED TO KNOW THAT THEY ARE GROWN UPS NOW! MOMMY DID’NT REALLY LIKE CLEANING UP AFTER YOU BEFORE! BUT SHE SHOULD HAVE MADE YOU DO SOME CLEANING. JUST CUZ THESE ARE THING U NEED TO KNOW IN LIFE!!
    IF YOU DO NOT LIVE ALONE- YOU NEED TO HELP!
    PERIOD!
    THE END!

  • Anne

    I am older now and am very independent. I hired a contractor to renovate a closet. It has happened a lot both in business
    and in relationships…marriage. I have always worked very hard but most men I know seem to try to get the most for the very
    least effort. I was taught how to do something well…a car repair…painting a room….plumbing problems
    cleaning anything at all. I am thinking back to my dad who would rather be out playing golf than taking care of his family….holding out money to do this while we lived rather frugally. All of my uncles were the same….husband boyfriends
    and certainly this contractor….the cheapest, the quick fix leaving me to ponder why would has to constantly be checking and
    prodding. I wonder not only do men have different values but are content with not caring about things. Yes, I do think women
    generally get the short end of the stick. Many men want wives like mothers or servants. After marriage, expectations change
    and you become an employee. If women have money of their own, I think it is a bad idea to give up control over assets and
    co-mingle money. Children can also take parents for granted but I think it is rare to find a man who really does a good job.
    I was a teacher and most of those who were out the door when class was over were guys. Opportunistic, entitled and
    indeed lazy.

  • hope you manage someday to meet a guy who is worth your time Anne.

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