One argument is that social expectations are different for men and women. Women may be judged more harshly for having a less-than-spotless home, and women’s awareness of these expectations may motivate them to do more.
We tested this idea by randomly telling participants that the photo they were looking at depicted either “John’s” or “Jennifer’s” living space. Then we asked them to rate Jennifer’s or John’s character — how responsible, hardworking, neglectful, considerate and likable they were — based on the cleanliness of their home.
We also asked participants to assess the extent to which she or he might be judged negatively by unexpected visitors — extended family, bosses and friends — and how much responsibility they believed Jennifer or John would bear for housework if they were working full-time and living alone, working full-time and married with children, or a married, stay-at-home parent.
This is where things got interesting. Participants rated the photos differently depending on whether they were told that a woman or a man lived there. Notably, respondents held higher standards of cleanliness for Jennifer than they did for John. When they were told the tidy room belonged to Jennifer, participants — regardless of gender — judged it less clean and more likely to inspire disapproving reactions from guests than when the same exact room was John’s.