Casual Fridays: Who cleans up after who? And who's angry about it?

Last week's Casual Friday study focused on messes around the home. We identified eight common household messes, and then asked readers how annoying they were, and who cleaned up.

An interesting thing happened: for the first time ever, we had significantly more female respondents than male respondents: Nearly 60 percent of the 490 responses to the study came from women. We've had as many as 70 percent male respondents to Casual Fridays studies, and the previous best showing for women was right about 50 percent. My best guess at the gender ratio in our readership is about 60-40 (male-female), which means that women responded to this survey at a dramatically higher rate than men.

Clearly, 18 years after Arlie Hochschild's book The Second Shift revealed that women then bore a disproportionate share of housework, housework remains an issue that is of great interest to women. But do our results suggest that gender imbalance in housework is still an issue? Because of the bias in our sample, it's hard to know for certain. Nonetheless, we did find some interesting results. This is an issue that clearly deserves some more systematic study.

To start with, what sorts of messes annoy people the most? This graph shows responses to the question "how annoyed are you by each of the following messes?"


For nearly every sort of mess, our respondents are significantly more annoyed when others in their household make the mess compared to when they make the mess themselves. The only difference that didn't rise to the level of significance is computer-related messes: disorganized computer files and computer cables. Bathroom, kitchen, and trash-related messes are the most annoying, with paperwork at the back of the pack. Interestingly, paperwork was the most frequently mentioned mess when we asked our readers to name the most common messes around their homes. Perhaps it's most common because it's least annoying -- if it were more annoying, then maybe it would get cleaned up sooner.

But what about gender differences? Are women more annoyed than men when it comes to messes?


It depends on who made the mess: Both men and women are significantly more annoyed by the messes created by others. There was not a significant difference between men's and women's level of annoyance at their own messes. But women rated the messes made by others as significantly more annoying than men did.

Are women more burdened with cleaning messes than men? Take a look at this graph:


When asked whose job it was to clean up messes, significantly more women said it was their job. And while both men and women claim they do more work than is officially agreed upon in their households, again, women say they do more than men.

But there was only a very small (though significant) correlation (r=.11) between number of hours spent on housework and gender. Interestingly, however, men were likely to say that the person living with them spent more time on housework. The correlation between male gender and hours spent by housemate (wife, girlfriend, or other) on housework was r=.32.

The was a significant positive correlation between age and amount of time spent cleaning (r=.22). Married people, and people living with romantic partners, spend more time cleaning than single people (r≅.20).

Finally, what about Hochschild's "Second Shift"? Do women spend more total time working than men when you combine housework and their paying jobs/school work? No -- in our results, there was no correlation between female gender and total time spent working outside the home and housework (r=-.088) -- indeed, the trend was towards men working more total hours than women. Total working hours did significantly correlate with the number of messes respondents say they really clean (r=.28 -- a moderate correlation).

So it seems that, among our respondents at least, some people, not necessarily women, just work a lot harder than others. These people are the ones who do most of the work, both at home and away from home. But it's also possible that the men who *didn't* respond to this survey are the ones who drag the overall numbers down. Not only are they too lazy to do housework, they're too lazy to complete a survey about housework.

More like this

I wonder if people of the male gender *think* they do more cleaning up than they actually do. That's a purely hypotethetical, speculative question, you understand. :-)

I'd like to see what the correlation was to how annoyed people are with messes vs. hours they spend at home/work. Are people who spend most of their day at home (unemployed or work from home) more annoyed than people who spend most of their day away from home?

On what basis do you estimate the proportions of your readers who are male vs female? I can't think how you'd know... IP addresses don't reveal it, and your commenters aren't necessarily representative of your readers, even if you can tell their genders.

By Mathematician (not verified) on 09 Nov 2007 #permalink

There has been some similar research conducted by Gosling, Ko, Mannarelli and Morris (2002). Basically, it concerns the relationship between a person's work environment and their personality. As an example, I believe the research indicates that conscientious people are more tidy than those not as conscientious, and, that sex and gender stereotypes play a role in the perception of tidy rooms and tidy people.

Gosling et al. (2002):

'The authors articulate a model specifying links between (a) individuals and the physical environments they occupy and (b) the environments and observers' impressions of the occupants. Two studies examined the basic phenomena underlying this model: Interobserver consensus, observer accuracy, cue utilization, and cue validity. Observer ratings based purely on offices or bedrooms were compared with self- and peer ratings of occupants and with physical features of the environments. Findings, which varied slightly across contexts and traits, suggest that (a)personal environments elicit similar impressions from independent observers, (b) observer impressions show some accuracy, (c) observers rely on valid cues in the rooms to form impressions of occupants, and (d) sex and race stereotypes partially mediate observer consensus and accuracy. Consensus and accuracy correlations were generally stronger than those found in zero-acquaintance research.'

Original article can be found here:


Gosling, S. D., Ko, S. J., Mannarelli, T., & Morris, M. E. (2002). A Room with a cue: Judgments of personality based on offices and bedrooms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 379-398.

By Tony Jeremiah (not verified) on 09 Nov 2007 #permalink

Skrud: here are the correlations you asked for.

As you can see, the only significant positive correlations (in gray and italic) are between time spent doing housework and paperwork, laundry, and tools. There's actually a small negative correlation between work outside the home and annoyance with tool messes.


Thanks for the link. That's fascinating stuff. You should consider starting a blog!

Also consider the education level of your readership. The more educated or liberal a couple is the more likely they are to equitably divide household chores.

Another commentor makes a good point about couples' perceptions about who does the cleaning/how much cleaning they each do. There's a complication where a person generally thinks they do more than they do OR than they percieve their partner noticing. E.g. I don't notice paperwork "mess" but my partner doesn't notice spots on the bathroom mirror.

An alternative research design I read about (NYT? sorry no good citation) recently explored this subject in a radically simplifying way. It compared housework done by demographically matched, but completely unconnected, single males and females. Surprise! The ratio of women's housework to men's housework was nearly identical--when the experimental subjects are single and unrelated to one another--to the gender delta between husbands and wives living together. In other words: women, single or married, think there is more housework that is compulsory *to do* than do their male counterparts. A pre-existing cognitive dissonance within individual, single women turns into interpersonal conflict when they marry men. The woman now has an "equitability" issue to decry. Instead of facing the unpleasant dilemma of her own preferences (I want a house that is neater than the amount of housework I actually like to do to maintain it), she now has a male lightning rod, who does less, if he can get away with it. Now, she can blame her cognitive dissonance on his under-participation. Women are exploiting the genders' differing perceptions of how much housework is compulsory, seeking to enforce their housekeeping standards on both marital partners. Many research designs miss the elasticity of the boundary defining "how much must be done," and descend directly into the gender-equity tug-of-war over the distribution of the labor that is being done.


It's too bad you don't have a citation -- I'd love to take a look at that study. However, I don't think that result means that the issue is over. We have to ask why women seem to have different cleaning standards than men. Is it because men and women are naturally different, or is it because men were never raised with the expectation of keeping things clean -- there was always a woman around to do it for them.

I will see if I can track down the study, and post a citation here.