Women are more likely to keep track of a household's daily to-do list of errands and appointments, while men are far less likely to do the same, unless it involves themselves.
Researchers who completed a study on how the sexes stack up on "mental housework" say the unequal distribution is tied to a woman's traditional role as the more caring, compassionate and communal peg in the relationship. The tendency to push most of the planning onto women, researchers hinted, could lead to women becoming overburdened.
The finding comes from a series of five studies published in last month's journal Sex Roles by researchers from William Paterson University and Columbia Business School.
The research found both men and women assume women will do more to help remember chores and other tasks.
"That assumption — the widely-held belief that women are more inclined to provide mnemonic assistance to their partners — translates into an expectation that they should do so," said series co-author Janet Ahn, PhD, a psychology professor at William Paterson. "Women feel they have to keep track of both the joint responsibilities in a relationship and their partners' personal to-dos."
The five studies were based on hundreds of survey results and found men are found to be less able to help others with mental housework, face lower expectations to do so, and are allowed to not offer help because of society's relaxed standards. This is surprising, notes Ahn, because is casts men as dependent, although often men are thought of as competent, independent leaders.
Put simply, men are "far less likely" to offer reminders of household to-dos to their partners, researchers determined. If they do, it's because they're tied to the task, such as a man reminding a woman to buy him a suit for a work function. Women's reminders tended to benefit their husbands, such as reminding him of a work deadline.
"The less selfless the reminder, the more likely that it was issued by a man," said Elizabeth Haines, PhD, a William Paterson psychology professor. "The results certainly suggest that men benefit more from the collective nature of couples' mental work than their female partners do."
The study, which also included the work of Columbia management professor Malia Mason, suggested women could become overwhelmed by keeping track of their own and others' "mental housework," which could lead to anxiety and distractedness. Haines said this could lead women to think their relationships are unfair.
She offered some tips to both men and women.
"For men: Understand this isn’t nagging – it’s reminding you about who you want to be and what you want to do," Haines said. "For women: When your partner asks you to remind him for something, you can just tell him: 'Ask Siri.'"
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