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Women step up in DIY but men not ready to move over, research shows

Women are getting more confident about their DIY skills and even believe they’re better at it than their mothers were – but men still think home improvement is a masculine domain, according to research undertaken by Mitre 10.

The research, undertaken in January, shows that 29 per cent of men agree that DIY is a man’s job, compared to just 13 per cent of women. In fact, women had strong feelings about the idea of DIY being a man’s domain, with a whopping 66 per cent disagreeing with the statement. The remaining respondents neither agreed nor disagreed.

The research surveyed more than 2,300 New Zealanders on their DIY habits and attitudes towards gender roles in DIY, and asked them to rate their own skills. Women have made huge strides in DIY since Mitre 10 first researched the topic a decade ago. When asked to rate their DIY skills compared to their same-sex parent, sixty-one per cent of women say they’re more skilled at home maintenance than their mothers were compared to 47 per cent of men who rate themselves better than their fathers.

And while the uptake of DIY among women is soaring, men remain more confident in their abilities, rating themselves higher than women rate themselves. Nine per cent of men rated their skills ‘excellent’, compared to just one per cent of women, and while 50 per cent of men say they’re ‘above average’, just 24 per cent of women say the same about themselves.

Mitre 10 CEO Neil Cowie said that while the survey’s findings show a gender gap, the overall trends are encouraging.

“We initially started researching this more than a decade ago, and back in 2004 we saw a noticeable increase in women getting into DIY and acquiring more skills. Now we’re seeing that the skills gap has closed, but women tend to under-rate their knowledge and abilities.

“Women are a growing force in DIY. Ladies Nights organised at our Mitre 10 stores regularly attract up to 500 women per event. There are just differences in how men and women approach their DIY – for example, our research shows women are happy to ask their partners for help with DIY, but men almost never do, and men are more likely to visit a home improvement or building supply website to get the information they need.”

Dr Rosie Cox, senior lecturer at Birkbeck, University of London, who has researched gender and DIY in New Zealand, said that being competent at DIY has long been important to New Zealanders’ sense of who they are.

“Home ownership and the tradition of working on houses – including building houses from scratch – is part of the history of European settlement of New Zealand,” Dr Cox said. “There has been a tendency for this history to be told in male terms and this can mean that women’s contribution to the practical aspects of home building and home maintenance, and their proficiency at DIY, is overlooked.

“It turns into a simple story of New Zealand identity whereby what it means to be a ‘proper Kiwi bloke’ is to be good at DIY and there is little space in this story for women.

“This research suggests a more complicated picture. New Zealand women, it seems, are becoming increasingly competent and confident at DIY. There are still differences between men and women in terms of the DIY that they do, and think they should do, but it’s clear that women are important in doing DIY in their own homes and helping out friends and family and they are eager to learn more.

“The image of the handy Kiwi who can mend anything is powerful enough that we should not be surprised if women embrace this identity too and continue to become more enthusiastic DIYers. The question that remains is how Kiwi men will deal with this: will they cling to the idea that DIY is men’s work or in 10 years’ time will we see even more couples working on their homes together, enjoying the fruits of being the most ‘handy’ nation on earth,” Dr Cox said.

While women’s uptake of DIY has surged, the research showed a clear confidence gap between genders, Mr Cowie said.

“We discovered that men are comfortable with a multitude of tasks across the board, in particular building and construction, repairs, and using power tools, while women are happy tackling gardening, painting and wallpapering but otherwise don’t rate their knowledge with other DIY tasks.”

Mitre 10 data shows a gender bias in the sort of products men and women buy*. “Women are more likely to make purchases in categories such as garden decor, interior decor, housewares, electrical appliances, seasonal heating and cooling, and flooring,” Mr Cowie said. “However, men tend to buy building supplies, power tools and garden hardware. Surprisingly, two categories usually thought of as being female products – paint and kitchens – actually have a very even gender split.”

And while some might not like colours typically perceived as feminine, pink tools do indeed have purchasing power. Female customers cited design and colour as the most important aspect in a tool purchasing decision, over competitive price, ease of use and being specially made for women. Only 14 per cent of women said they wouldn’t be caught dead buying pink tools.

“Our most consistently popular women’s-specific tool product is the nine-piece ladies’ toolkit,” Mr Cowie said. “It’s clearly a popular gift option, too, as we see sales more than treble in the lead-up to Christmas and a 33 per cent spike around Mother’s Day. The festive season brings out the serious female DIYer though, with the 19-piece ladies’ toolkit selling four times that of the nine-piece, again with a huge spike compared to average monthly sales throughout the year.”