Gender Stereotypes and the Coordination of Mnemonic Work within Heterosexual Couples: Romantic Partners Manage their Daily To-Dos

Abstract

Couples appear to help each other remember outstanding tasks (“to-dos”) by issuing reminders. We examine if women and men differ in the frequency with which they offer this form of mnemonic assistance. Five studies measure how heterosexual couples coordinate mnemonic work in romantic relationships. The first two studies demonstrate that men are assumed to do less of this form of mnemonic work (Study 1) and experience less societal pressure to do so than women do (Study 2). The next three studies suggest that men tend to do less of this mnemonic work than women do and that, when men do mnemonically help their partners, the help tends to involve errands for which they are stakeholders. This notion was evidenced in the greater accessibility of examples of women’s reminding acts than men’s reminding acts for both partners (Study 3) and in the less helpful reminders that men provided, compared to those women provided, as rated by both partners (Study 4a) and independent coders (Study 4b). These results converge on the possibility that men, relative to women, are less inclined to be concerned with keeping track of their partners” outstanding needs, perhaps because doing so is a behavior that is less strongly prescribed for men than for women. Implications for helping behavior and the possible consequences associated with performing disproportionate mnemonic work in relationships are discussed.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Audrey Schield, Alyssa Kenney, Thet Zaw Naing and Elif Naz Coker for their help coding the data and Elizabeth Moulton for feedback on an earlier draft of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Janet N. Ahn or Malia F. Mason.

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Ahn, J.N., Haines, E.L. & Mason, M.F. Gender Stereotypes and the Coordination of Mnemonic Work within Heterosexual Couples: Romantic Partners Manage their Daily To-Dos. Sex Roles 77, 435–452 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-017-0743-1

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Keywords

  • Sharing mental labor
  • Gender stereotypes
  • Outstanding tasks
  • Helping behavior
  • Prospective memory