Not surprisingly, a study finds that the genders differ when it comes to relaxing at the end of the day. I say not surprisingly because it is the stuff of sitcoms. Father in his study with a pipe and newspaper, and Mother cooking or doing dishes. Relaxing together doesn’t actually work.
Darby Saxbe from the University of Southern California measured cortisol levels in 30 dual career couples after observing and recording location and activities every ten minutes while the couples were at home. In each couple, both partners worked full time and they had at least one child.
Simply put, cortisol is the stress chemical found in our endocrine systems. These levels can affect sleep, weight gain, burnout and weakened immune resistance. The lower the level, the healthier the reaction.
Saxbe and her team found that women most frequently pursue activities in housework, communication and leisure; men spend the most time in leisure activities, followed by communication and housework.
When both spouses entered into housework activities, their cortisol levels rose. This makes sense; doing chores doesn’t help one relax usually. However, female levels of cortisol were lower when their husbands helped them or worked with them side by side. Levels in men reduced only when they were allowed to relax and their wives continued the work.
A biological explanation is that stress is relieved when your partner is under stress, implying that you don’t have to carry the burden alone. The difference seems to be in perception of burden.
Saxbe commented on her research this way: “The quality of relationships makes a big difference in a person’s health. Divvying up the housework with your partner may be just as important [to your health] as eating your vegetables.”
photo credit: x-ray delta one