Character  &  Context

The Science of Who We Are and How We Relate
Editors: Mark Leary, Shira Gabriel, Brett Pelham
Feb 08, 2019

Misperceptions of Masculinity & Femininity Drive Biased Estimates of Preferences for Household Distribution of Labor

A man dusts a high cabinet

In 1980, the wealthiest 10% of households owned 68% of the total US wealth. In 2007, the wealthiest 10% controlled 73% of the wealth. Similarly, in the 1970s, the average woman earned about 60% of what the average man would typically earn. Fortunately, the gender income gap has decreased since the 1970s, with women earning about 80% of that typically earned by men. Unfortunately, the gender income gap has hit a plateau that started in 2005 (Stanford Center On Poverty & Inequality, 2011).

Differences in how men and women are treated at the workplace likely contribute to the gender income gap. However, household distribution of labor may play a larger role than we might imagine. Social and Personality Psychology researchers at #SPSP19 provide evidence that misattributions of femininity and masculinity between romantic partners predict stereotypical household distributions of labor between men and women, even when both men and women would prefer an egalitarian distribution of household labor initially. Misattributions of gendered typical distributions of household labor may therefore lead women to take an unfair amount of work at home, in turn hindering women’s mid-career development.

“If you stereotype your partner, you will end up with a stereotypical relationship even if you originally wanted an egalitarian relationship” explains Emily Cyr from the University of Waterloo.

There are many good reasons why we might want to have an egalitarian romantic relationship. Couples who share the burden of household labor show improved physical health, lower stress, and less frequent symptoms of depression. Cyr and Bergsieker attempt to explain why couples who prefer having an egalitarian relationship may sometimes end up in inequal relationships despite the benefits of egalitarianism. In a series of four studies, Cyr and Bergsieker report that 44% of women and 53% of men believe they will prioritize their own and their partner’s career equally. Moreover, they find that when participants are asked to imagine how they would like the distribution of household labor to be years in the future (i.e., when couples are likely at the mid-career level) both men and women would prefer an equal distribution of household labor.

Interestingly, men overestimate how much household labor their partner would prefer, whereas women underestimate the amount of household labor their partner would prefer. It appears that, men tend to overestimate the femininity of their partners, and women underestimate the masculinity of their partners, compared to partner’s self-perceptions of masculinity/femininity. Most importantly, Cyr and Bergsieker find that the difference between perceptions of a partner’s masculinity/femininity to their partner’s self-perception of masculinity/femininity predict overestimations and underestimations of that partner’s preference for household labor, respectively. In other words, men who over perceive femininity in their partners will be more likely to overestimate how much household labor their partner prefers. Accordingly, women who over perceive masculinity in their partners underestimate the amount of household labor their partner prefers.

The researchers suggest that couples communicate and are clear about expectations of household distribution of labor instead of assuming partner’s preferences based on perceptions of masculinity and femininity.


By: Diego Guevara Beltrán, BSc/BA, PhD student in Social Psychology, Cooperation and Conflict Lab, Arizona State University

Session: “Miss”understood: Men’s Inaccurate Detection of Women’s Goals Stems from Overestimated Femininity, part of the Correlates, Causes, and Consequences of Gendered Division of Household Labor symposium, held on the 7th of February 2019.

Speaker: Emily Cyr and Hilary B. Bergsieker, University of Waterloo.  

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Why is this blog called Character & Context?

Everything that people think, feel, and do is affected by some combination of their personal characteristics and features of the social context they are in at the time. Character & Context explores the latest insights about human behavior from research in personality and social psychology, the scientific field that studies the causes of everyday behaviors.  

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