I liked this story about male Latin American immigrants learning to cook and clean that was in the Washington Post yesterday. As one person interviewed for the story put it, “Most of the Latino men come from a culture where they're used to having their wives or companions do everything around the house.” So when they get to the U.S. they have to call home for help with cooking or cleaning, or they forgo the cleaning and cooking and live in substandard conditions.
From the article it seems like some men may take some of these skills home when they return to their country, although others may revert back to their social culture norms.
The specialization of women in domestic duties is not uncommon in the US. I’m reminded of a time about 5 years ago when my wife and I were recently engaged, and my wife told a church friend of her’s that I did not like her to miss dinner. The church friend tried to give this carefully constructed set of advice that she should not continue to always take care of me, once we were married and I would have to learn to fend for myself sometimes. However, when my wife informed the friend that I did the cooking and I liked her home because in graduate school that was the only time we got to see each other during the week. The friend’s response after know the real reason was much more positive.
Taking this back to economics, in graduate school I worked with a model that examined how households allocate their time between income generating activities and household chores. If one person it more productive in household chores, then that person will use their time for that (me cooking or a latina house wife doing domestic chores), while the other person will use their time to generate income. Sometimes people will do a bit of both. Additional, time can be used for leisure. The difficult question is how does a household decide to allocate this time? Not only will it be based on ability, but also bargaining power between a husband and wife will determine how a household decides to distribute its time? It gets even more complicated when you consider things like cleaning, cooking, and child rearing generally benefit all household members.
Although anyone who has ever tried to figure out who cleans the bathroom knows these are complicated decisions.