AUSTIN, TX – April 25, 2022
In a new briefing paper released today from the Council on Contemporary Families, “Mine and Yours, or Ours: Are All Egalitarian Relationships Equal?”, family and consumer studies professor Daniel Carlson (University of Utah) summarizes his forthcoming research on how the household division of labor in mixed-sex couples affects marital satisfaction for men and women. It turns out there is a big difference between dividing up the tasks so that each partner does different ones versus sharing or alternating the same tasks, so that partners contribute equally to each.
For an article to be published April 27th in Sex Roles, “Reconceptualizing the Gendered Division of Housework: Number of Shared Tasks and Partners’ Relationship Quality,” Carlson analyzed two nationally representative data sets to try to resolve conflicting research findings about what household arrangements men and women find most satisfactory. In his study, he distinguishes between the overall proportion of housework partners complete versus the number of tasks they share equally together. He discovered that the total proportion of time each partner puts in may be less important than the extent to which they equally share the same tasks.
- Women are happiest when they equally share all or most tasks with their partner. Women in egalitarian arrangements (i.e., men do 40-60% of the housework) who equally share even just one task with their partner are significantly more satisfied with their relationships than women in traditional arrangements doing all or almost all the housework. However, women who divide housework tasks equally with their male partner but do not equally share any tasks are no more satisfied than women who do all of the housework.
- Men report themselves happier when they do no or almost no housework than in egalitarian arrangements where tasks are divided or only a few are equally shared. But men who share all or most tasks equally with their partner are just as happy with their relationships and housework arrangements as men who do no housework at all.
As Carlson summarizes the takeaway: “My findings suggest that the most mutually beneficial housework arrangement for couples is one where tasks are shared equally. Men may be equally satisfied doing no housework or sharing all or most tasks equally, but since women’s highest satisfaction is when all or most tasks are shared, the route to a happy relationship appears to lie in sharing.”
Stephanie Coontz, CCF’s Director of Research and Public Education, consulted with Melissa Milkie, President of the Work and Family Researchers Network, who was not involved with this study but has intensively researched the division of housework and its changes over recent decades. Milkie, a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, suggested a reason that sharing tasks could heighten relationship satisfaction more than dividing them up: “Sharing the same tasks may give partners a true appreciation of the nuances and complexities of work throughout the home. There are many details involved in planning and cooking family meals, for example, which may not be obvious to someone who rarely does more than get take-out food or heat up leftovers. The same is true of keeping track of family finances or home repair maintenance. Doing the same tasks can also forestall any notion that the other person‘s tasks are ‘easier.’ Knowing one’s partner is making similar efforts throughout the home may make couples feel more like a team – and that they are ‘in it’ together.”
The Council on Contemporary Families, based at the University of Texas-Austin, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of family researchers and practitioners that seeks to further a national understanding of how America’s families are changing and what is known about the strengths and weaknesses of different family forms and various family interventions.
The Council helps keep journalists informed of new and forthcoming research on gender and family-related issues via the CCF Network. To locate researchers or request copies of previous research briefs, please contact Stephanie Coontz, Director of Research and Public Education, at firstname.lastname@example.org, cell 360-556-9223.
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April 25, 2022