housework and household earnings - man and woman cooking

Married men who avoid housework earn more money, new study shows

A new study finds that married men who don’t help out with the housework tend to earn more, because they have more time to focus on work.

A new study finds that married men who don’t help out with the housework tend to bring home bigger paychecks than husbands who play a bigger role on the domestic chores front.

The study appeared in the the journal Personnel Psychology on May 22.

Agreeableness, disagreeableness, and who does the housework

In psychology, “agreeableness” is one of the “Big Five” dimensions used to describe human personality. It generally refers to someone who is warm, sympathetic, kind and cooperative. Disagreeable people, on the other hand, do not tend to exhibit these characteristics, and they tend to be more self-interested and competitive.

Across two studies involving about 2,000 participants with an average age in the mid-40s, the research finds that disagreeable husbands help out less with domestic housework, which allows them to devote greater resources to their jobs, which results in higher pay relative to their more agreeable male counterparts.

Why do disagreeable (and less helpful) husbands earn more?

“This effect is even stronger among disagreeable men with more traditional gender role attitudes and when their wives are highly conscientious,” said lead author Brittany C. Solomon, “presumably because in these cases their wives take on more household management and more seamlessly carry out the responsibilities.”

The study suggests that because these disagreeable men are able to preserve more time and energy at home, they can invest these extra resources into their work and earn more. 

However, the team found that disagreeableness does not predict career success for more egalitarian men, or for those whose wives are less conscientious.

The career benefits of being disagreeable come at a cost

Prior research has shown that disagreeableness predicts financial success (especially for men), and that this association is attributed to workplace behavior.

But this effect remains puzzling, given that disagreeableness is negatively associated with valued workplace behaviors, such as cooperation and prosocial behavior.

The researchers behind the current study theorize that the male “disagreeableness premium” can be better understood by considering imbalanced social exchanges at home, specifically with one’s spouse. 

“Our findings build on the conventional wisdom that organizations seem to reward disagreeable workplace behaviors, and highlight the importance of social exchange at home for success at work,” Solomon said.

Employers can also play a role in lessening the burden of housework

Solomon suggested that organizations could acknowledge the role that spousal exchange plays in individual success, which might lead them to focus more efforts on lightening the burden of at-home responsibilities. Doing so could allow employees to preserve resources that could then be invested in their jobs, Solomon added.

“To help those who do not have the built-in at-home arrangement that enhances job involvement and pay, organizations may consider investing in infrastructure that helps establish more level career-related playing fields,” she said.

Those investments might include providing non-work resources, such as establishing child care programs, pre-vetting caregivers, or having couriers on retainer.

Solomon speculates that these “extras” might enhance job involvement even more than traditional work-focused incentives like bonuses.

Changing the organizational culture

“Practices that situate employees more equitably outside of work may offer more employees the opportunity to succeed,” she said.

“Also, some research shows that men are stigmatized for taking advantage of flex work policies,” Solomon said. “Changing the organizational culture, in addition to implementing such policies, may influence calculations within a marriage or partnership about whose career should take priority and who should do more at home.”

The study also carries implications for career self-management. Most notably, the findings may influence how employees view other people’s roles in their own success, beyond their boss and other organizational members.

Likewise, it could help improve the understanding of how one’s choice of romantic partner and the social balance at home can have substantial implications for one’s career success.

“Professionals often publicly thank their spouses when receiving achievement awards or earning promotion,” Solomon said. “And, at least for disagreeable men, our findings quantify the truth behind this sentiment.”

Study: “Why disagreeableness (in married men) leads to earning more: A theory and test of social exchange at home”
Authors: Brittany C. Solomon, Matthew E. K. Hall, Cindy P. Muir (Zapata), Elizabeth M. Campbell
Published in: Personnel Psychology
Publication date: May 22, 2021
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/peps.12454
Photo: by Werner Heiber from Pixabay