The findings surprised the researchers: Religious men tackle household tasks like cooking and grocery shopping at even higher rates than nonreligious, progressive men. And both do more cooking and cleaning than the men who fall in between them on the faith scale.
That’s according to a study by University of Utah researchers Claudia Geist, an associate professor of sociology, and doctoral candidate Bethany Gull that was recently published in the international journal Social Compass.
Among those not surprised are Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin of Baltimore and Rich Schaus, who directs the Gospel Rescue Mission in Muskogee, Oklahoma. They are men of faith who say they do a lot of housework.
“As a Christian leader, the first person I serve is God, but in a close second is my family,” Schaus said. “As a result, I must step up and help around the house. This is done to serve those that are closest to me.”
So Schaus starts dinner, routinely does the dishes, cares for the chickens and cleans up after himself, he said. If he sees something that needs doing, he’ll tackle it. And he often asks his wife what she needs done because he doesn’t want her to feel overwhelmed when she gets home from work, usually a bit later than he does every day.
Keeping the house clean for the sake of family is familiar ground for Rabbi Slatkin, too. “While I have resented it at times, I have developed the attitude that I need to focus on what G-d wants from me at this moment, regardless of what I’d rather be doing,” Rabbi Slatkin, a Jewish Orthodox rabbi and professional clinical counselor who co-founded Maryland-based The Marriage Restoration Project with his wife, said by email.
“As a family man, there is a lot of work to be done at home. It needs to get done, someone has got to do it, and it will likely take more than one person. So, I’ve become more action-oriented, more present to the needs of the family without harping on a particular division of labor.”
The Deseret News discovered finding men who claim both strong faith and home-cleaning skills born of practice was an easy reporting task.
“And why not? It doesn’t seem absurd to me at all that religious men would be family men, ” Laurie DeRose, an assistant professor of theology at the Catholic University of America, told the Deseret News, after writing a blog with a colleague on the topic for the Institute for Family Studies. “An assumption that being religious means men don’t lift a finger and they just lead the Bible studies and discipline the children just seems a little weird to me.”
She and colleague Anna Barren distilled possible explanations for the notion religious men don’t do housework into two points. “The first is a caricature of religious men as misogynistic, narcissistic and controlling; the second is that many people understand that egalitarianism places high expectations on husbands and fathers, without recognizing that faith does likewise.”
Geist studies the division of household labor, but she noted that religion has often been left out of that discussion in favor of economic, gender and other considerations when examining who does what. Gull’s focus has been religion, including people who lose or leave their faiths. The two researchers are the first to examine how faith impacts domestic household chores, said DeRose.
The researchers looked at whether men did certain household chores, including dishes, cooking and grocery shopping.
Men who do housework are more apt to belong to one of two camps. One is nonreligious and egalitarian, while the other is religious and family-centered, Geist and Gull said.
That probably doesn’t mean that all religious men do chores, said DeRose, who wasn’t involved with the research. Religion “could motivate being a family man without housework necessarily being part of the package. But that would lead to an overburdened wife that would then compromise family life. What I’m saying is it’s not automatic to have that work as part of the package. But it’s not surprising,” she said.
Geist and Gull based their research on data from 34 countries using the 2012 International Social Survey, which had both how religious men are (determined by how often they attend services) and also housework data. Both measures were self-reported.
Gull highlighted some of the findings:
- Catholic and Muslim men were more traditional on most measures, doing less housework than nonreligious men.
- Jewish men shared three of the four tasks more equally with their partners.
- Men who attend services weekly did more laundry and more hours of housework than those who never attended religious services.
- Men in countries categorized as non-Western Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox Christian, Buddhist and nonreligious countries reported a more traditional division of household labor than men in Western Protestant nations, which includes the United States.
Everyone wants to be seen in a positive light, said Geist, but there’s no reason to believe men or women are especially prone to exaggerate their efforts around the house.
Moppers and shoppers
Derek Gillette, a freelance writer near Seattle and father of five who describes himself as a born-again Christian, “serves his wife” by helping out in part because his savior has forgiven his sins, he said. “I sacrifice for and serve my wife in many ways, all of them from this place of forgiveness-driven love. This includes housework, cooking, cleaning, whatever things are needed for the household to function well.”
He said he works remotely and she homeschools the kids, so it would be easy for either of them to say they’re too busy for housework. But they don’t. Instead they do what needs to be done out of gratitude for their many blessings.
“This creates an affection for Christ, which leads to a change in our will, which bleeds over into every area of our lives, including housework,” said Gillette.
Geoffrey Breedwell and his wife divide chores based on aptitudes. The couple, who live in Nashville, agreed when they got married 11 years ago who would do what.
“My faith does play a bit of a role in this, said Breedwell, who’s working on a divinity degree from a Protestant university. “The biggest portion of why I clean is to maintain peace within the house. Ephesians 5 is our reference for this as Paul calls on married couples to submit to one another in love. We submit the chores needed around the house in love.”
His wife is “much better at cooking, so she blesses the family with that. I am better at giving her a break after she does this, so I clean up afterward. There are other times when she deep cleans, so I take the kids (7 and 3) and allow her to focus,” said Breedwell, who notes she has very high cleaning standards that he may not always meet. “I try. That’s what is important.”
They both hate housework at times and when their girls complain about doing chores, he commiserates, but doesn’t budge. “No one likes housework, but it’s just something we have to do,” Breedwell tells his daughters.
While he may not like housework, either, Schaus said he does like what his efforts contribute in terms of family time.
“Doing my part and inviting my two teenage sons to also step up has led to incredibly peaceful evenings in our home,” said Schaus, the Oklahoma dad. “Once the dishes are done, everyone can relax and just enjoy each others’ company.”