Household chores: are men really slackers?

In houses all around the world women are cleaning and doing chores right now while their husbands sit in front of the TV. Depending upon which you are it’s either a pretty sweet arrangement, or a manifestation of the oppressive patriarchal regime into which you were born (or something more moderate and boring sounding in between, I guess). Now Bryan Caplan has stirred up a hornets’ nest with a post supporting the couch jockeys:

Look at the typical bachelor’s apartment. Even when a man pays the full cost of cleanliness and receives the full benefit, he doesn’t do much. Why not? Because the typical man doesn’t care very much about cleanliness. When the bachelor gets married, he almost certainly starts doing more housework than he did when he was single. How can you call that shirking?

Megan McArdle took the bait and ripped into him, but unfairly so, I think. Caplan’s post doesn’t claim that men shouldn’t do their fair share of chores: he says that men aren’t intentionally shirking, they are doing what they (possibly erroneously) see as their fair share. It just happens that women tend to believe that the men are being lazy and should do more. Since they’re both acting honestly, there’s the possibility of good faith bargaining to reach a mutually acceptable compromise. So what might a pareto-optimal solution look like? I’ll defer to Tyler Cowen on this one:

Symbolic goods usually have marginal values higher than their marginal costs of production… [which] means
the man should take the woman’s most irrational requests (flowers? the placement of the toilet seat?) and go to the greatest lengths to satisfy them. Expand output where marginal cost is low[.]

So there you go: the economists’ take on an optimal marriage! Of course, Caplan may be wrong. Perhaps men really are happy to take advantage of women and pay the price (constant nagging) in order to shirk their chores. Not that I’d know any such knaves…

Update: Bryan Caplan replies to Megan. He just says what I said about what she said about what he said 🙂