For nearly 25 years, researchers from the University of Michigan have followed the lifestyle habits of a group of 3,000 Generation X adults — men and women born between the years 1961 and 1981. The latest report [PDF] based on the ongoing study focused on Gen Xers and food, and found that this generation is a lot more conscious about food — especially the men — than their predecessors were.
The data collected as part of the Longitudinal Study of American Youth found that Generation X adults spend more time shopping and cooking food, watching cooking shows on TV and talking to their friends about food or cooking.
“Generation X adults view life as a smorgasbord and have a little bit of everything in terms of food,” says study author Jon Miller, the director of the International Center for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy in the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.
Gen X men are more involved in all aspects of meal preparation — from grocery shopping to cooking — than their fathers were. These men spend more time in the kitchen than their dads did, cooking about eight meals a week and buying groceries more than one a week.
“Men have fun in the kitchen,” says Miller. “I was surprised by how often they shop and cook. If men just happened to wander into the kitchen and make something, that makes more sense, but when you buy into the whole process, then you’re into it. Clearly they are into it.”
Gen X men also watch cooking shows and read magazine articles on cooking just as much as women do. “Males overall get something different out of watching cooking shows than women because I don’t think men have as many cooking skills acquired young at their parents arm. My guess is young men are still learning basic skills. They are still learning how to boil water,” says Miller.
The shifting roles in the kitchen is also likely a sign of modern household dynamics. In many Gen X couples, both partners have full-time jobs outside the home and share household responsibilities. “In previous generations, there was often a disparity, and the husband’s job brought in more money or was more time consuming. That’s not the case anymore,” says Miller. “Now there is much more parity between genders and in many cases, the woman makes more. That means there is a reallocation of time and duties for these people.”
Dr. John Ardizzone, the director of assessment services program at the Family Institute at Northwestern University who is unaffiliated with the study, says he also sees more professional men taking on domestic duties than he did in the past. “The men in this age group definitely do more work in the home, and more cooking for sure,” says Dr. Ardizzone. “They also help out more with their kids than you would stereotypically expect of men. They are putting their kids to bed and giving them baths. They share in chores and responsibilities.”
Again, their motivation has a lot to do with the fact that their partners and spouses are working full-time too, says Dr. Ardizzone, and the household tasks need to be divided. “These women are well-educated, are working more or also have more interests outside the house that take up time,” says Dr. Ardizzone.
“It’s ‘have to’ and ‘want to,’” says Ellen Galinsky, the president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute in New York. The Institute released a national study of the changing workforce in 2008. “These men can have to do more cooking and want to at the same time. We find that women are changing too. Younger women are just as ambitious as men. Men are becoming more family involved and women are becoming more work and career involved.”
The Gen X report revealed a few surprises: for instance, only 9% of the surveyed adults said they preferred to buy organic foods when available. About half said they buy organic “some of the time,” but the other half almost never purchase organic. “There is this perception that Generation X people are passionate organic buyers and it is not necessarily true,” says Miller. “I think they also take into account price, availability and other factors and don’t feel the need to always buy organic. Those who are really devoted are a much smaller group than we would’ve guessed.”
Here are some other key eating habit findings in the study:
- On average, Generation Xers cook meals for guests about once a month and talk to friends about food or cooking about six times a month.
- Married women cook the most and prepare about 12 meals a week. Single women cook about 10 meals a week and both married and single men cook about eight meals weekly.
- Generation Xers have a low level of genetically modified food knowledge. “Generally speaking they know more about genes and biology than their parents did, but genetically modified food is not something they think about often,” says Miller. “Those who are scientifically literate still monitor food news about food safety.”