LOS ANGELES -- At last, scientists have rigorously proved that men's need to chill with the remote at day's end is a matter of maintaining health. They've also shown that women's health hinges on help with housework.
Researchers came to this conclusion by studying the daily activities of 30 dual-earner Los Angeles couples with at least one child. They also tracked levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which primes the body for physical and mental challenges during the day and recedes at day's end in anticipation of rest.
People with chronically high cortisol levels -- or whose levels fail to decline in the evening -- feel stressed and are vulnerable to a wide range of physical and mental illnesses. They even tend to die younger, studies have shown.
The women, on average, spent 30 percent of their evening on housework and about 11 percent on leisure. The men devoted 20 percent of their time to housework and about 19 percent to leisure.
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The scientists from the University of Southern California found that spending lots of time on household chores at the end of the day kept cortisol levels high for both genders. No surprise there.
But they noticed that the married mothers' cortisol declined most steeply when their husbands pitched in with the housework. Unfortunately, the working dads' cortisol wasn't likely to dip unless they spent more evening time relaxing.
"Arguments about who's doing the dishes and who's flipping through channels" have repercussions for the health of both spouses, the researchers wrote in their study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology.