A New Study Examines Why Dishwashing Is the Worst Chore, Especially for Women

A dish gloved-hand giving the thumbs-down sign.
Leaving all the dishes to one person is a recipe for dissatisfaction.
jevtic / Thinkstock

It’s official: Washing dishes is the worst—at least for women. A forthcoming report from the Council of Contemporary Families, a non-profit that studies family dynamics, has definitively cast all of us who find the task meditative and satisfying into a KonMari-esque caste of neatniks.

The study, which examined how common household tasks correlate with relationship quality, found that sharing specific chores was particularly important for reducing relationship discord. Men who split household shopping with their partners reported greater sexual and relationship satisfaction than both men who did the majority of the shopping and men whose partner did most of it. For women, the shared task that impacted their relationship satisfaction more than any other was washing the dishes. “Women who found themselves doing the lion’s share of dishwashing reported significantly more relationship discord, lower relationship satisfaction, and less sexual satisfaction than women who split the dishes with their partner,” writes Daniel Carlson, the study’s lead author and assistant professor of sociology at the University of Utah.

There are a few theories as to why this is. For one thing, Carlson believes it’s because dishwashing is objectively kind of gross. “There is old, moldy food sitting in the sink,” he said in an interview with The Atlantic. “If you have kids, there is curdled milk in sippy cups that smells disgusting.” It’s also pretty thankless: No one is complimenting their partner on their dishwashing skills. It’s a lot more rewarding to cook dinner for example—at least if you’re a good cook or if your significant other knows how to pile on glowing praise.

But if the ratio of grossness to praise is what really makes washing the dishes so detested, wouldn’t it make more sense for cleaning the toilet to be higher on the list? Not when you factor in frequency.

Carlson points out that the most unpopular chores—and the ones most often associated with women—are ones that involve cleaning up after someone, like doing the laundry or scrubbing out the tub. But unlike laundry or bathroom deep-cleans, dishes typically have to be done every single day. Getting up close and personal with someone else’s grime day after day presents a more compelling reason for why washing the dishes is uniquely reviled than the simple fact that it’s gross.

The tasks typically associated with men—like fixing things around the house or washing the car or mowing the lawn—really only have to be done weekly to once in a blue moon. Once you change the bulb in the light fixture or hook the cable up, it’s done. Watching your partner occasionally fix a thing or two a week is an easy way to breed resentment when you’re stuck at the sink every night. And while laundry and toilet cleaning still have to be done more often than checking the oil on a car, those tasks are done at nowhere near the frequency of washing the dishes.

Even as someone who personally considers dishwashing soothing, I still find myself resenting my roommates if I’m the only one who’s been loading and unloading the dishwasher all week. It’s one of the myriad daily tasks that go into the upkeep of a home—tasks that are normally relegated to women. Not only do these tasks never really end, they also require a constant mental tally of what’s been done and what hasn’t, a tally that’s updating or restarting at the beginning of the day. Luckily, if you find yourself constantly fighting over the dishes, there’s no need to break out a chore wheel. Dishwashing is a task that lends itself pretty well to teamwork. Split the work down the middle and confront the everyday monotonous grossness of life as a united—and equal—front.