January 2007 - A new study by researchers from Newcastle University's Human Nutrition Research Centre funded by the Wellcome Trust and published in the British Food Journal has found that three-quarters of women do most of the cooking and shopping for food in their households. The study of nearly 200 British men and women in their early 30s found that, although half of the women worked full time, they were still responsible for this aspect of family life.
Researchers say that the rise of celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver has made cooking more acceptable to men. However, while some male respondents saw cooking as a hobby and a chance to be creative, women were more practical and were largely relied upon for everyday cooking and shopping.
Dr Amelia Lake, a research fellow at Newcastle University and lead author said:
"Women have made great progress in terms of equal opportunities over the last few decades so it surprised us to find that many women, even in this relatively young age group, assumed the traditional female role of chief cook and food shopper.
"Celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay have helped change the image of cooking as women's work and many cook books are aimed at men. Yet our research suggested men like to use cooking as a chance to show off occasionally, while women are left with the day-to-day chores.
"Some of the men we surveyed viewed cooking as more of a hobby - and indeed its usual to find meals like barbeques, Sunday lunches and speciality dishes like curries are a man's culinary showpieces."
The 198 study participants came from a sample based in Northumberland, north east England of whom 79 per cent were married or co-habiting. Of the women surveyed, 79 per cent were mainly responsible for their household's food shopping and 72 per cent for preparing and cooking food. Reasons given ranged from women having more time for these tasks if they worked part-time to the belief that women chose healthier food. Some said they did the shopping because they thought could do it faster than their partner, who was often tempted by unnecessary treats. One-quarter said they were responsible because they were better at planning, budgeting, preparing and knowing their family's food preferences.
Amelia Lake said the findings highlighted the importance of practical cooking lessons in schools as a way towards changing traditional family dynamics:
"One reason for our findings could be that many of our study participants grew up in households that were traditionally structured, with their mothers in charge of most domestic duties. With this as their key reference point, our study couples perhaps easily conformed to gender stereotypes.
"This work shows how important it is to consider the role of women when developing health intervention policies. Health professionals should also consider this when giving advice on healthy lifestyles and eating. For instance, there's no point solely advising a diabetic male on how to structure his diet when he isn't doing the food shopping or cooking - you need to see his wife, too!"