This New York Times blog post promises to tell us "Why Women Find Their Parents Unpleasant."
If you click the link, you'll see a graph with blue and pink bars showing how often men and women have "unpleasant" experiences with their bosses, co-workers, parents, spouses, children, and friends, and when alone (as a percentage of the total time spent in each of those situations). The researchers' term for these unpleasant experiences is the "U-index," which means how much of the time people report that they "feel more stressed, sad or in pain than they feel happy."
Catherine Rampell (the author of the blog post) sums up the findings:
It’s probably no surprise that people find spending time with their bosses . . . to be most unpleasant. Almost a third of the time that women spend around their bosses feels unpleasant; for men, nearly half of the time spent around supervisors is unpleasant. It’s also probably no surprise that hanging out with friends — the people we choose to spend time with — is least unpleasant.Though these findings would seem not to be very flattering to women, Rampell cleverly spins them the other way:
For most of the categories, men and women report being in an unpleasant state about the same portion of the time. But the biggest divergences relate to spending time with family, and not in the way that stereotypes of feminine domestic bliss might predict: Women appear much less happy when spending time with their children and parents than men do.
[W]hen women are spending time with their children, they are more likely to be doing chores and handling child care, which can both be relatively stressful activities. When men spend time with their children, on the other hand, they spend relatively more time watching television and traveling — more leisurely activities.So, Rampell seems to be following my mom's rule on how to research findings on gender:
The biggest gap relates to how men and women feel when spending time with their parents. When men are around their parents, they are in an unpleasant state about 7 percent of the time. Women find being around their parents to be unpleasant 27 percent of the time.
Again, some of this can be explained by what men versus women are likely to be doing when they’re with their parents. . . . [W]omen are more likely to be tasked with caring for their elderly or disabled parents than their male counterparts are.
[I]f you're going to explain gender difference, you've got to assume that whatever the women are doing is good, and it's the men who have the problem.Can there be any doubt that if the research had instead showed that men find it unpleasant to be with their parents almost 4 times as often women, this would have been reported in the New York Times in a way that would (still) praise women and criticize men?
But I'll give Rampell credit for not just going with the above politically correct explanations. She emphasizes the study's finding that
[e]ven if you control for these different types of activities — that is, even when both genders are engaging in the exact same labors or pastimes with their kin — there are still "sizable differences in the U-index between men and women when they are in the company of their parents or children."I honestly don't know what explains this. But here's one hypothesis by a NYT reader:
[M]others are more critical and demanding of their daughters, and fathers are more critical and demanding of their sons. Women tend to outlive men, so visiting ones parents is most likely to means "visiting one's widowed or divorced elderly mother" than some other scenario. That means more misery for the adult daughters than for adults sons.UPDATE: Lots of responses in the comments over here.