It goes against the lazy stereotype of the traditionalist, bread-winning male and the subservient wife who does all the housework, but new research has found that men who attend religious services regularly spend more time doing housework than most other men. The other group of men who do more housework than the norm, are non-religious and egalitarian-minded. What both groups may have in common is, simply, conscientiousness.
The impact of religion on the domestic division of labour has not been properly investigated to date, but new research from academics at the Department of Sociology in the University of Utah presents evidence using data from the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP). The sample included 10,619 men from 34 countries and measured men’s housework participation, according to their religiosity.
Several unexpected findings emerged.
Contrary to expectation, this study found that more frequent religious attendance is associated with greater participation in some housework chores and time spent on housework.
Women’s share of housework is higher than that of men in all societies but there is a general movement, particularly in Western countries, toward greater equality in the division of chores. The study shows that this increased participation of men can be motivated by a nonreligious equalitarian ideology as much as by a religious, family-centered one. Those who practice only occasionally are those less involved in the house.
The researchers from the University of Utah write: “our findings indicate that conservative religious membership and reduced housework participation do not enjoy a direct, linear relationship; rather, highly religious men may find themselves taking on a greater share of housework despite their feelings on the gendered nature of those tasks.” (p. 405)
Faith sets high expectation for husbands and fathers and this translates into more time in the home, especially if children are present, and also in greater cooperation with their wives.
With regard to the total amount of time spent, “men in all Catholic countries, Hindu, and non-religious countries report more housework hours than men in Western Protestant countries net of a broad range of individual and household characteristics”. (p. 404)
The study concentrated on four tasks: laundry, shopping for groceries, preparing meals, and cleaning.
The researchers found that “men who attend religious services weekly share more in laundry tasks and report significantly longer housework hours” (p. 401) They also found that, when compared to non-religious men, those who attend less regularly are the group reporting a more traditional division of labour for grocery shopping, preparation of meals, and cleaning.
The association between religiosity and men’s housework involvement is definitively complex and there are variances within the same religion, depending on sociocultural factors. Still, a stronger religious sentiment enforces a sense of responsibility at home, which can also translate into more chores sharing and, generally, more time spent housekeeping.
Commenting on this study, Laurie DeRose and Anna Barren wrote on the blog of the Institute for Family Studies: “There is discourse that claims gendered ideologies inhibit men’s involvement. But most religions are pronatalist and family-oriented. Many religions are also proponents of traditional gender ideologies that view the man’s role as leader, protector, and provider. Given that understanding, it seems safe to assume that many highly religious men have a vested interest in carrying out their role as the family head with involved love and devotion, especially, since faith adds a certain divine calling to each of the roles. It would be surprising if a man called to value his wife above his work would be content to spend his evenings being served by her.”