Women’s roles in everyday society may have drastically changed in recent decades, but new research suggests we’re still plenty comfortable with women doing the chores.

The researchers asked a nationally representative sample of 1,025 adults to take part in a thought experiment. Volunteers were randomly assigned to read short vignettes about one of two hypothetical couples, one heterosexual and homosexual. The vignettes contained nuggets of information about each person’s job, income, hobbies, and interests, some of which were used to subtly suggest how traditionally masculine or feminine a particular person was. Based on the information they read, the researchers then asked them to figure out which partner would be best suited to do specific chores inside and outside of the house as well as take care of any potential children’s physical and emotional needs. The volunteers mostly chose women to handle the indoor chores, and even with same-sex couples, most chose the partner seen as more feminine to take care of the humble abode.

The preliminary findings were presented Sunday at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

"Nearly three quarters of our respondents thought that the female partners in heterosexual couples should be responsible for cooking, doing laundry, cleaning the house, and buying groceries," said lead author Natasha Quadlin, a doctoral student in sociology at Indiana University, in a statement. "In addition, nearly 90 percent of our respondents thought that heterosexual men should be responsible for automobile maintenance and outdoor chores. Regardless of the partner's relative income or gendered hobbies and interests, our respondents gravitated toward the person's sex instead."

In the case of same-sex couples, though, volunteers did often turn to gender stereotypes to suss out who they thought was best meant for specific types of housework. Close to two-thirds believed the more feminine partner should buy groceries, cook meals, and clean the house and do laundry; a similar percentage thought the more masculine of the two should be in charge of car repairs and other outdoor chores.

"Even in same-sex couples where there are not sex differences between partners, people use gender differences as a way to approximate sex differences," Quadlin said. “We were surprised that happened to the extent that it did, because we thought expectations for household responsibilities would be more egalitarian between same-sex partners.”

The same general pattern held true when it came to childcare, with 82 percent of volunteers believing that women should take care of a child’s physical needs; 72 percent saying the same of a child’s emotional needs; and fully 62 percent saying the women should be the stay-at-home parent if needed. Men were only favored when it came to providing discipline. Similarly, upwards of 60 percent believed the more feminine partner in same-sex couples should take care of a child’s needs, but there wasn’t a clear relationship between femininity and becoming the stay-at-home parent.

Factors like income did influence which of the two partners was picked for chores, but they simply weren’t as significant as sex or gender in same-sex couples. While 57 percent picked the partner who made less money to do the laundry, for instance, 75 percent picked the women to do so.

Despite ongoing efforts to repair the income gap between men and women, Quadlin and her co-author believe their study highlights just how much farther we have to go before we can achieve equality in the home too.

“We have public policies aimed at ensuring that women and men have equal earnings, but those policies will not necessarily advance gender equality in the home if people maintain such gendered attitudes,” she said. “Even if women have higher earnings than their husbands, they are expected to come home and perform a second shift of chores and childcare."

Source: Qualin N, Doan L. Making Money, Doing Gender, or Being Essentialist?: Partner Characteristics and Americans’ Attitudes toward Housework. American Sociological Association. 2016.

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