How Important Is Keeping a Clean House?

In any home, some cleaning-related tasks spark dread in some members of the household, while others don’t mind them at all. For example, one person might detest emptying the dishwasher, and therefore, complete other chores that he or she likes more, or at least is willing to do.

Do you think it’s fair to be able to pick and choose when it comes to cleaning and home maintenance? What if everyone likes and dislikes the same tasks? How are chores delegated in your household?

In the Op-Ed piece “The Case for Filth,” Stephen Marche suggests a solution to issues like the gender divide that keeps women doing more of the housework than men and even disagreements over what constitutes a household chore: everyone cleaning less. He begins:

In Claire Messud’s novel “The Emperor’s Children,” the ultraliberal Murray Thwaite comes home late, steps in cat vomit and keeps walking: “It still was not, nor could it ever be, his role to clean up cat sick,” Ms. Messud writes. The boomer hypocrite is practically a comic type by this point, but in his domestic disregard, Murray Thwaite is like most other men, liberal or conservative, old or young.

Unlike many other rubrics by which you can establish the balance of power between men and women, there isn’t much evidence of a cohort shift in housework. Younger men are doing roughly the same amount of work around the house as their fathers did. It doesn’t look like they’re going to start doing more, either.

Women today make up 40 percent of America’s sole or primary breadwinners for families with children under 18, a share that has quadrupled since 1960. And yet in America as well as in several other countries in the developed world, men’s time investment in housework has not significantly altered in nearly 30 years.

A recent, large cross-national study on the subject by an Ohio State sociologist found that “women’s housework did not decline significantly and men’s housework did not increase significantly after the mid-1980s in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.” In the United States, men’s participation in housework topped out at 94 minutes at day in 1998, but by 2003 was down to 81 minutes, not much different than the 76 minutes it was in 1985.

Think of all the other changes that men have undertaken in the period between 1980 and 2010. Taking care of kids used to be women’s work, too, but now the man with his kids is an icon of manliness. Foodie snobbism has taken on a macho edge in some circles, to the point where the properly brined Thanksgiving turkey can be a status symbol of masculine achievement.

So why won’t men pick up a broom? Why won’t they organize a closet? Why can’t housework be converted — as the former burdens of food preparation and child rearing seem to have been for some men — into a source of manly pride and joy? Why would housework be the particular place to stall?

At least one thing is becoming clear: The only possible solution to the housework discrepancy is for everyone to do a lot less of it.

Students: Read the entire Op-Ed piece, then tell us …

How would Mr. Marche’s suggestion about cleaning less be received in your house? Why?
What are the pros and cons of taking his advice?
Have you observed or been part of situations in which people of one gender do more household tasks than the other? Explain.
How important is a tidy environment to you?
Do you enjoy cleaning and other household tasks?
Do you think people tend to judge others by how clean–or dirty–their homes are? Explain.
When you are living on your own, how do you think your approach to housekeeping will be like or unlike that of your parents? Why? Or, if you are on your own, describe this aspect of your transition to living independently.
Mr. Marche states that cooking and child-rearing are now “cool” for men. Why do you taking care of the home hasn’t “caught on” to the same degree? Is this comparison valid? Why or why not?
A November Student Opinion question asked about ordinary tasks you would pay someone else to do for you, if you could. Would cleaning your room or completing other household chores be on your list? Why or why not?

By Shannon Doyne December 9, 2013