Thursday, 19 January 2012

When wives believe they do an unfair share of the housework, everyone loses

More women than ever go out to work and yet surveys in Western countries show that wives continue to take on the lion's share of domestic chores.

A new study has quizzed 389 couples in Austria, Germany and Switzerland to build up the most comprehensive picture yet of how this uneven distribution of domestic chores is associated with men's and women's marital satisfaction.

These were all dual-earning couples with young children, with both spouses working at least 15 hours per week. Eighty-nine per cent of the couples were married. The average professional work load for women was 30.2 hours per week; for men it was 48.6 hours. Consistent with past surveys, the women in this sample took on nearly two thirds of the domestic chores.

The researchers Gerold Mikula, Bernhard Riederer and Otto Bodi asked their participants several things: what share of the chores they took on; whether they thought that was fair; whether they felt the way the share had been decided was fair (so-called "procedural justice"); how much conflict they experienced in their relationship; and how happy they were with their relationship. They threw all these factors into a statistical pot and looked to see how they related to each other.

First, Mikula and co focused only on the direct associations between housework distribution and women's and men's answers. For women, it wasn't the precise share of housework they did that was correlated with their experience of conflict and satisfaction, but rather how fair they thought that share was. Women who thought the division of household chores was unfair tended to experience more relationship conflict and less marital satisfaction. Women's sense of whether the decision process for housework had been fair also had its own independent link with levels of conflict. So feeling that they did an unfair amount of housework was bad enough, but conflict was even more likely when women felt the unfair arrangement had been arrived at unfairly.

Men, by contrast, seemed largely detached from the way housework was shared. There was no direct correlation between the division of housework and their reports of fairness. And even men who said the arrangement was unfair didn't tend to report more relationship conflict or less satisfaction - no doubt because the unfair arrangement was usually in their favour. In fact, the only direct association of housework distribution with men's answers, was that the greater share their female partners took on, the more satisfied they tended to be.

But here's where the picture gets more complicated. The researchers also looked at associations between participants' answers and their partners' reported sense of justice and experience of conflict and satisfaction. This suggested that men suffered when their female partners believed the housework arrangements were unfair. In fact, the negative correlates for men (more conflict, less satisfaction) of having a female partner who sensed injustice in the division of housework, outweighed the satisfaction associated with having a female partner who did lots of housework.

"The results support the proposition that it is not the balance of the division of labour itself but rather the subjective sense of justice associated with the division that matters primarily to the relationship satisfaction of the persons concerned," the researchers concluded. "Spouses should exchange their personal views and preferences in open discussions to arrive at an agreement that considers the wishes of both parties ... "


MIKULA, G., RIEDERER, B., and BODI, O. (2011). Perceived justice in the division of domestic labor: Actor and partner effects. Personal Relationships DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-6811.2011.01385.x

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.


Unknown said...

I would have preferred to see them broaden the scope of this study. It is (still) the case that men contribute more of the money-earning work to relationships. It would be much better to focus on all the contributions that partners bring to the relationship and not just focus on house work.

LemmusLemmus said...

"Women who thought the division of household chores was unfair tended to experience more relationship conflict and less marital satisfaction."

This may mean simply that people who tend to feel they are treated unfairly also have less-than-optimal relationships.

Also, I wonder what the total average workload for men and women was (though the sample, it appears, is not representative).

zaza said...

Well Kumukulanui, women earn less because they are (still) paid less for the same job!

Anonymous said...

I think the thing to remember when looking at a household where both parents are working is that neither of them are finished working when they get home from work because they still have children to take care of as well as the household chores regardless of how the chores are divided up. If the women are working 30 hours a week, coming home each night to take care of the children, and still doing a majority of the chores, it is understandable why they would be less satisfied in their relationship and why they feel the chores are unfairly divided.

Anonymous said...

Any one who has ever been married looks at this and says "DUH!"

Justin Teel said...

This is true. The more work a person does on top of household duties while managing children can really have a toll on people. This broader concept would have put more accurate results about outside stimuli affecting their relationships rather than just focusing on housework. It is easier to examine one hypothesis at a time though in studies. Less cost and time.

Justin Teel said...

So true. Women work today just as much as men do and still tend to be housewife when they get home. My husband and I divide our housework and watching the kids up to whomever worked more that day and whenever we have errands to run. We each do about half of everything usually. We don't think of it as one of us doing more than the other because he helps me in everything I do and I support him. Were a team and everything is equal. We have an awesome relationship with two babies, two jobs, both attending college ft, and housework. This is a lot on a person but if you have a steady support system around you like a spouse then you can take on anything. This is the way it should be. Some people are still stuck in the past, I guess.

76ERB said...

If the women in this study worked an average of 18.4 more hours per week more than their spouses the whole context of this study would change. This topic is too complex. Better communication equals fewer unmet expectations. Fewer unmet expectations equal less disappointment. Happy wife equals a happy life.

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