A new study from the Ajinomoto Group and Gallup offers good news for people who enjoy cooking and dining frequently with people they know: Both may be good for their wellbeing.
According to the survey, nearly six in 10 people (58%) interviewed across 142 countries in 2022 said the act of cooking brought them joy in the previous seven days. However, men’s and women’s views differed sharply, with roughly three-quarters of women (76%) saying they enjoyed cooking in the past week, compared with 40% of men.
The recently released Wellbeing Through Cooking: Global Insights Into Cooking Enjoyment and Eating Together report details these findings as well as other key insights, including the positive relationship between cooking enjoyment and higher life evaluations. It also features the first global analysis of whether eating frequently with other people is tied to a higher overall quality of life.
The gap between the joy that men and the joy that women get from cooking further illustrates the fundamentally different relationship they have with cooking. In 2022, the gender disparity in cooking -- already sizable -- grew for the first time in the five-year trend, as fewer men shared this responsibility with women, according to the latest Cookpad and Gallup World Cooking Index report.
The cooking gender gap is an important reason why men are much less likely than women to have enjoyed cooking in the past seven days: 40% of men said they did not cook at all over this period. Among women, this figure stood at 9%.
Additionally, slightly more men (20%) than women (15%) said they did not enjoy cooking in the past week. This difference widens, though, if one considers only individuals who said they cooked in the past week. About one-third of men who cooked in the past week (34%) said they did not enjoy it, compared with 16% of women.
Those Who Enjoy Cooking Are More Likely to Enjoy Life
Globally, individuals who said they enjoyed cooking in the past seven days were substantially more likely to rate their lives positively enough to be considered “thriving” than those who said they did not enjoy their recent cooking experience or did not cook at all. Nearly one in three people who found cooking enjoyable (31%) were thriving, compared with 21% of those who said they did not enjoy cooking and 24% of those who did not cook at all.
A deeper analysis in the report finds that people who say they enjoy cooking are 1.2 times more likely to be thriving in their life evaluation than those who either did not enjoy cooking or did not cook at all in the past week, even after controlling for other important information that may play a role in how somebody thinks about their life, including their age, education, household income and educational attainment, among other attributes.
People Who Eat Frequently With Others Experience More Positive Emotions
The Ajinomoto Group question series is the first global survey to measure how often people share meals (lunch or dinner) with people they know, namely, their “social” dining habits. Past research has found that people who are frequent social diners tend to have stronger social networks and better health outcomes and experience more positive emotions than those who are not.
The report reaches similar conclusions: Globally, people who regularly eat dinner with people they know (4+ times in the past week) score higher on Gallup’s Positive Experience Index, which means they are more likely to experience emotions such as feeling enjoyment, respected and well-rested, or laughing or smiling a lot and learning or doing something interesting on a daily basis.
Frequent social diners scored a 74 out of 100 on the index, compared with 70 for those who ate dinner with others infrequently and 64 among those who said they did not eat dinner with anybody they know in the past seven days.
“Solo Diners” in High-Income Countries Fare Worse
The report also focuses on “solo diners” -- individuals who habitually eat both lunch and dinner alone. For various reasons, habitually eating alone is thought to be on the rise in many high-income countries; thus, the report focuses on how solo diners (or individuals who said they did not eat lunch or dinner with somebody they know in the past week) in rich nations rate different aspects of their lives. However, there is no reason to believe the findings of that analysis are not generalizable to solo diners residing elsewhere.
Solo diners in high-income countries were about three times more likely than their fellow residents who ate at least one meal with somebody in the past seven days to rate their current and future lives so poorly they are considered “suffering” (15% vs. 5%, respectively).
Residents of high-income countries who are solo diners appear to have fewer social connections than their fellow residents who ate with somebody they know, as measured by the Social Life Index, which assesses a person’s social support structure and opportunity to make friends. Solo diners in high-income countries score a 75 out of 100 on this measure, about seven points lower than the score for those who ate at least once in the past week with somebody they know (82).
Cooking and dining with others, such as family members or friends, may seem like familiar, commonplace activities that have little consequence on an individual's overall quality of life. However, the results of the Ajinomoto Group/Gallup survey suggest otherwise: Those who enjoy cooking and frequently eat with others potentially nourish not only their body through these actions, but their wellbeing as well.
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