Women do more housework because they’re more likely to notice what needs to be done, study claims
- Women do housework as they’re more likely to notice what needs to be done
- Men and women see different ‘possibilities for action’ in same domestic setting
- This view, called ‘affordance theory’, may offer an explanation as to why there continues to be unequal distribution of housework and childcare
When it comes to messy kitchen tops, unmade beds and dirty laundry, it can sometimes seem that men don’t notice a job needs doing.
Now scientists have an explanation for this cause of frustration for women up and down the country.
Experts from Cambridge University have suggested that men and women see different ‘possibilities for action’ while at home.
They said this view, called ‘affordance theory’, may offer an explanation as to why – in many cases – women take on more of the burden of housework and childcare.
Women do more housework because they’re more likely to notice what needs to be done, philosophers say (stock image)
Writing in the journal Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, they said: ‘When Jill enters the messy kitchen she sees the dishes as to be washed, the floor as to be swept, the refrigerator as to be restocked, the counter as to be wiped, the recycling bin as to be taken out, the ripe bananas on the counter as to be used up.
‘Jack, of course, sees that there are dishes in the sink, that the bananas are more brown than yellow, or that the refrigerator is empty.
‘But these perceptions do not ‘tug’ at him – they do not present the corresponding task as to be done.’
The team suggest women are more likely to see an action being ‘invited’ than men, possibly due to social conditioning.
Professor Paulina Sliwa explained that perceiving an affordance – or a ‘possibility for action’ – can trigger a neural process preparing you for physical action.
‘This can range from a slight urge to an overwhelming compulsion, but it often takes mental effort not to act on an affordance,’ she said.
‘Affordances can pull on your attention. Tasks may irritate the perceiver until done, or distract them from other plans.’
She said this puts women in a ‘catch-22’ situation, where there is either an imbalance in the amount of housework or childcare carried out, or an inequality between the amount of mental resources being used.
Dr Tom McClelland said: ‘Some skills are explicitly gendered, such as cleaning or grooming, and girls are expected to do more domestic chores than boys.
‘This trains their ways of seeing the domestic environment, to see a counter as ‘to be wiped’.’
The researchers said men should be encouraged to improve their sensitivity to noticing ‘possibilities for action’ at home.
‘A man might adopt a resolution to sweep for crumbs every time he waits for the kettle to boil, for example,’ Dr McClelland said.
The team suggest women are more likely to see an action being ‘invited’ than men, possibly due to social conditioning (stock image)
‘Not only would this help them to do the tasks they don’t see, it would gradually retrain their perception so they start to see the affordance in the future.’
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