When it comes to cooking and food preparation, the roles of men and women have historically been divided. Women have been dominant in the kitchen at homes, staying home and raising children, preparing meals and managing the purchasing decisions around food. In sharp contrast, professional kitchens – the ones in restaurants around the country – are run by men. The National Restaurant Association estimates that around 84% of those who hold the title of Chef in a restaurant are male. But a recent piece in the Washington Post showed an interesting change in domestic kitchens – more men are joining women in cooking at home.
After World War II, men came home from the service and women who had stepped in to work outside the home returned to resume the traditional duties of a housewife. From the post-war era until the last several decades, the dominant role of women in the domestic kitchen has remained stagnant.
But with the rise of women in the workplace and more men staying at home or splitting household duties among working spouses more equitably, men have taken on cooking at a higher rate than ever. Looking at data from the American Time Use Survey compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2015, there is still a 28-point gap between the time men and women spend on food preparation in the home. Today 42% of men, up from 38% a decade before, report spending more time than ever in the kitchen.
Not only are you more likely to see men preparing food in the kitchen, but you’re also more likely to see new gadgets and advanced technologies in the hub of the home as well. The ways we’re preparing food, the tools we’re using to cook and the ways in which we order and store our food are all rapidly changing. Are the two related? Sort of.
The rise of “foodie” culture and the mainstreaming of celebrity chefs have made home cooking more popular than ever with both men and women. But the traditionally male-driven professional kitchen has begun influencing content and programming for home chefs as well. Powerhouses like the Food Network are catering programming to men, with shows like “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” with Guy Fieri, “Man vs. Food” and “Meat Men,” and appliance and housewares manufacturers increasingly target men with cooking gadgets and gear for the kitchen.
The shift in demographics is felt in the home design industries, too. Men play a bigger role in selecting the look and feel of their kitchens, along with what appliances to put in them. In a National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) survey earlier this year, the top kitchen trend of 2016 was “clean-lined styling” and industry professional described modern kitchen design aesthetics to be more “masculine” and “streamlined.”
Historically, innovation in kitchen appliances has been low-tech and designed to reduce the workload for women. In the 1950s and 60s, the height of the middle-class suburban woman-as-homemaker role, housework and cooking were seen as time-consuming, demanding work that required a laborious effort. Appliance and housewares manufacturers pumped out gadgets and products to help alleviate the stress and workload of managing the home and cooking for a family. As women entered the workforce and families transformed into a structure with two working parents, the structure and responsibilities began to shift. Innovation and invention today continue to look at making cooking easier, but now target a home with today’s conventions: two working adults and increasingly split food and cooking duties.
Today, both large enterprises and small startups are looking at the food industry and the kitchen as the next big frontier. Investments in food tech and connected kitchen startups are booming and food giants like Kellogg’s and Cambell’s Soup alongside tech giants like Cisco, Google and Amazon are jumping in. With everyone spending more time cooking and sourcing food, the opportunity to rethink the role of the kitchen is enormous. Appliance makers are looking at ways to make their products more connected and adaptive to the needs of households that are busier but want better quality food. Designers are looking at what it will mean to have the role of appliances change and how newer devices and more technology moving into the kitchen will impact form and function of the space.
What we see today is just the beginning of a radical shift in commerce, appliance technology, design and home cooking that might make the kitchens of the future look very different.