Where are Men and Women Happiest in Their Homes?

There have been a number of different methods for attempting to document what people do in their homes, how people living together divide housework between themselves, and how they feel about it.  Initially, scholars just asked people questions like, “How many hours a week do you spend [fill in the blank with various household activities and obligations]?”  Certainly this method lends itself to statistical analysis, but what are we actually learning about people?

Research has found that people tend to over-estimate how much housework they actually do when asked on surveys.  Time use diary studies are a bit different and a lot more accurate.  This method asks participants to record their daily tasks and activities (where they were, what they did, how long they spent doing it, who they did it with, etc.) for small periods of time over the course of an entire day.  Most scholars agree that time use diary studies are more accurate portrayals of people’s actual experiences than surveys.  And it makes sense.  If you’ve ever tried to lose weight by eating less and then tried counted calories to lose weight, you can understand why.

Less research, however, focuses explicitly on how we feel when we’re doing different things throughout the day.  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (a psychology professor at the University of Chicago) set out to do just that (see here and here).  He gave study participants beepers that were programmed to go off at random moments throughout the day.  When paged, participants are asked to record what they are doing, who they are with, what they are thinking about, rate their emotional experience of the moment, and – significant for this blog – where they are

Professor Csikszentmihalyi ended up with a neat pile of data at the end of his research, some of which allowed him to make some interesting observations regarding gender and domestic space for heterosexual couples living together.  The room in the house in which women reported the happiest emotions and positive feelings was the bathroom.  When I read this, I was immediately reminded of a children’s book, Five Minutes Peace.  It’s the story of a heterosexual elephant family.  It documents the beginning of their day.  The father is trying to get out of the door to go to work, the mother is taking care of breakfast, the father, and the three elephant children.  The story is about the mother elephant’s frantic search for five minutes of relaxation in the bathroom to have a chance to collect herself and her thoughts.  (If I remember the story correctly, I don’t think she ultimately got her five minutes.)

The room in which women reported being the least happy, the most uncomfortable and the most uneasy in Professor Csikszentmihalyi’s research was the basement.  Interestingly, this is the same room that men experienced the most happiness.  I’m not sure if this has anything to do with man caves, or whether the men in Professor Csikszentmihalyi’s study had basement dens where they went to get away – but some of them might have.  It’s an interesting finding either way.

It speaks to the diversity of ways in which domestic space is gendered.  It’s not only gendered in terms of who uses it and what’s in it.  Domestic space is also gendered in terms of how we feel when we’re there–how we experience it.

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