Sex-typed chores and the city: What does urbanicity have to do with chores?

By Natasha Quadlin and Long Doan

From Gender & Society
Official Publication of Sociologists for Women in Society

Something popped out at us as we were looking through the list of household chores commonly used in studies of gender and time use

Female-Typed Chores:
Doing dishes
Doing laundry
Grocery shopping

Male-Typed Chores:
Outdoor chores (e.g., mowing the lawn)
Auto maintenance
Making household repairs

If you live in a single-family home in the suburbs or a rural area, this list of chores may look very familiar to you. Someone in your household probably does these chores on a regular basis, or even daily, in the case of some of the female-typed chores. But if you live in an apartment in an urban area (as we intermittently have, and some of our friends do, after scattering across the country after graduate school), some of these chores look unfamiliar, or perhaps they look different than they might look to other people who don’t live in a city. Small apartments take less time to clean than single-family homes. Doing laundry and grocery shopping can be an all-day affair. And male-typed chores—especially things like mowing the lawn and making car repairs—are all but irrelevant when you don’t have a lawn or a car.


This is the empirical puzzle we set out to examine in our recent article in Gender & Society. In this article, we ask: How does urbanicity shape partners’ contributions to household chores in heterosexual married couples? Especially in cities, where partners might be constrained in their ability to do conventional “male-typed” and “female-typed” housework, what does their time use look like?

Our results, drawing on data from the American Time Use Survey, reveal an intriguing pattern across rural, suburban, and rural areas. Perhaps not surprisingly, both men and women do less male-typed housework in cities than they do elsewhere. This is consistent with our argument about city dwellers – when you don’t have a lawn or a car, it’s hard (and often impossible) to spend time on male-typed chores.


We were surprised, however, when we looked at the data on female-typed chores, particularly for men. We might expect urban men to “step up” their contributions to female-typed chores, for a couple reasons – they have time available (because they’re not spending time on male-typed chores), and they tend to be more egalitarian than their rural and suburban counterparts. But our analyses suggest that urban men spend no more time on female-typed chores than men who live elsewhere. In other words, urban men are constrained in their ability to do male-typed housework, and at the same time, they opt-out of female-typed housework. This is a pattern that, to our knowledge, has not yet been examined in the literature on household chores.

So what are urban men spending their time on, if not housework? Well, a few things. Urban men spend more time commuting to work than other men do. They also spend more time on grooming, and they spend a lot more time on leisure activities. We did not find urbanicity differences in men’s time spent on work, sleep, or exercise, so men’s time spent on these activities is relatively consistent across places.

Overall, our article provides a glimpse into how partners respond to place-based constraints on their time use. Where people live has an undeniable effect on how people spend their time – but how men and women respond to these constraints provides unique insight into gendered social life.

Article details

Sex-Typed Chores and the City: Gender, Urbanicity, and Housework

Natasha Quadlin, Long Doan

DOI: 10.1177/0891243218787758

Gender & Society


Natasha Quadlin is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Ohio State University. Her research focuses on social inequality in the contemporary U.S., and often uses large-scale experiments and surveys to assess the underlying beliefs and mechanisms behind stratification. Current projects examine perceptions of responsibility for college costs, income inequality among college graduates, and public attitudes toward gender and sexuality.

Long Doan is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland. His research focuses on social psychological processes underpinning patterns of inequality. Current projects examine the emotional consequences of time use, responses to identity threats, and attitudes toward gender and sexuality.