Gender Equality is a Win-Win
Photo courtesy of TED Conference.By Michael Kimmel
. In my last column, I looked at some of the obstacles to men’s embracing gender equality in their public and private lives. These obstacles, both in our attitudes and in our institutions, are significant.
This month, though, I promised I’d discuss the motivational side, the question of why men should
support gender equality. It’s here, I think, that the myth of the battle of the sexes, the interplanetary conflict between Martians and Venusians is most readily exposed. Contrary to what many people argue, gender equality is not a zero-sum game in which women win only at the expense of men losing. Gender equality is a win-win. When women win, so too will men.
Nowhere is this clearer than in our personal lives. For those of us who are married and have children, the evidence is pretty convincing that the greater men’s share of housework and childcare the happier is the marriage.
The evidence for this aspect of gender equality is actually quite overwhelming. Research by sociologists Scott Coltrane and Michele Adams looked at national survey data and found that when men increase their share of housework and child care, their children are happier, healthier and do better in school. They are less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, less likely to be put on prescription medication, and less likely to see a child psychologist for behavioral problems. They have lower rates of absenteeism and higher school achievement scores.
“When men perform domestic service for others, it teaches children cooperation and democratic family values,” said Coltrane. “It used to be that men assumed that their wives would do all the housework and parenting, but now that women are nearly equal participants in the labor force, men are assuming more of the tasks that it takes to run a home and raise children.”
Perhaps the most telling correlation is that when school-aged children do housework with
their fathers, they get along better with their peers and have more friends. And they show more positive behaviors than if they did the same work with their mothers. “Because fewer men do housework than women,” said Adams, “when they share the work, it has more impact on children.” Fathers model “cooperative family partnerships.”
When men share housework and child care, it turns out, their wives are happier. (Duh.) Historically, working mothers reported higher levels of self-esteem and lower levels of depression than full-time housewives. Yet they also reported lower levels of marital satisfaction than do their husbands -- who are happier than the husbands of traditional housewives. (This was because under such arrangements, women’s workload increased at home, while the men benefited by having almost the same amount of work done for them at home and having their standard of living buttressed by an additional income.)
But wives of egalitarian husbands, regardless of class, report the highest levels of marital satisfaction and lowest rates of depression, and are less likely to see therapists or take prescription medication. They are also more likely to stay fit, since they probably have more time on their hands.
The benefits for the men? Men who share housework and child care are healthier – physically and psychologically. They smoke less, drink less, and take recreational drugs less often. They are more likely to stay in shape and more likely to go to doctors for routine screenings, but less likely to use emergency rooms or miss work due to illness. They’re also psychologically healthy: they are less likely to see therapists, be diagnosed with depression, and take prescription medication than men who do not share housework. They also report higher
levels of marital satisfaction.
They also live longer, causing the normally staid British financial magazine The Economist
to quip “Change a nappy, by God, and put years on your life.” “When males take full responsibility for child care,” sociologist Barbara Risman points out, “they develop intimate and affectionate relationships with their children.” Nurturing their children is good for men’s health.
Perhaps the happiness and health of our children, the happiness and health of our wives, and even our own happiness and health are insufficient to motivate men. Perhaps this last finding from the empirical research might tip the scales: When men share housework and childcare, they have more sex.
That’s right. Research by psychologist John Gottman at the University of Washington also found higher rates of marital sex among couples where men did more housework and childcare.
Of these four fascinating areas, which one do you think Men’s Health
magazine made the lead of its coverage? “Housework Makes Her Horny” (although I suspect that is not true when she does it). It is also probably worthwhile pointing out that there is no one-to-one correspondence; I would advise male readers of this essay against immediately rushing home to load the washing machine. Instead it points to wives’ lower levels of stress in balancing work and family, coupled with a dramatic reduction in resentment that they alone are doing the second shift.
What’s clear though is the gender equality is not a zero-sum game. We’re neither Martians nor Venusians; here on Planet Earth, both in our workplaces and in our homes, gender equality is a win-win. The war between the sexes is a myth; and peaceful coexistence will be happier, healthier – and sexier – for everyone.