This originally appeared on The Daily Life. Republished here with permission.
If a man starts out believing that cooking, cleaning, and childcare is “women’s work,” then there’s little chance he will change his mind during the relationship.
Remember that classic scene in When Harry Met Sally…where Meg Ryan’s Sally quizzes Billy Crystal’s Harry about his gender ideology during their first date?
You don’t? Oh yeah, that’s because it never happened.
There’s a good reason that first date conversation never veers close to gender politics. When it comes to dating conventions, the technical term for this topic is “boner killer.”
But, based on a recent study published in the Journal of Family Issues, asking your prospective partner about his views on gender equality could save a lot of time and frustration down the track.
The study, conducted by Marie Evertsson from the Sociology Department at Stockholm University, found that a man’s attitudes toward gender—his gender ideology—is a good predictor of his willingness to share in housework and childrearing long after the honeymoon phase is over.
Based on completed questionnaires from nearly 2,000 respondents, she conducted a longitudinal analysis revealing that individuals’ gender ideology in 2003 was related to time spent doing domestic work in 2009 for those who lived with a partner at that point.
But there’s a catch. It’s not enough to simply infer that the man sitting opposite you will pick up his own socks in years to come because he’s a nice guy and he clearly respects his mother. If you want to be sure that he’s going to share the domestic load then he needs to be man enough to come out and say it.
“[W]omen who live with men who state that gender equality in the home is important perform a smaller share of the housework than other women and are less likely to report disagreements with their partner/spouse regarding how housework is divided,” writes Evertsson.
Preferring to avoid such potentially awkward conversations, you might convince yourself that your strong conviction to gender equality—and your exceptional skills of persuasion—will be enough to sway him once you’ve shacked up together.
And you’d be wrong.
Evertsson’s research also examined the possibility that women with an egalitarian gender model could influence the men in their lives to take on a greater share of domestic work. But it turns out that’s not the case.
It doesn’t matter how strongly the woman is committed to gender equality, if the man doesn’t share the same ideology she will end up doing an unequal share of unpaid domestic and childcare work.
As Evertsson puts it, “There is no significant relationship between the woman’s gender ideology and the man’s time spent in housework. Hence, women with a gender egalitarian ideology do not appear to be able to persuade their husbands to increase their time spent on housework.”
“This result speaks to the importance of a shared gender egalitarian ideology for the realization of an egalitarian family. If the man does not embrace these egalitarian ideals, change is more difficult,” she writes.
Evertsson’s research reveals what many women have found out the hard way: If a man starts out believing that cooking, cleaning, and childcare is “women’s work,” then there’s little chance he will change his mind during the relationship. Once a dinosaur, always a dinosaur—they never learn to adapt.
The problem is that childcare and some domestic work just has to be done. When your baby’s diaper needs changing or there’s no food or clean clothes in the house, it’s not an option to simply withdraw your labor to make a point. If he’s not going to do it, you have no choice but to do it yourself, no matter how much it conflicts with your values.
And “marrying up” can exacerbate the problem.
Evertsson writes, “Disagreements about the division of housework are more common in couples in which both partners have high education, the man has a higher occupational status than the wife, and the spouses do not share the same gender ideology.”
If you don’t want to spend the rest of your life silently—or not so silently—resenting how little responsibility your partner takes for domestic work and childcare, then gender equality discussions are not something to be consigned to the “we’ll sort that our later” category.
Despite what Hollywood romantic comedies have taught us, love doesn’t conquer all.
Kasey Edwards is a writer based in Australia and author of 30-Something And Over It. You can follow her on Twitter here.