A new study by University of Indianapolis sociology faculty member Amanda Miller finds that not only are today’s couples sharing the housework more so than couples of the past, but how those tasks are divided could make all the difference in determining a happy relationship.
“Stalled for Whom? Change in the Division of Particular Housework Tasks and Their Consequences for Middle- to Low-Income Couples” by Daniel L. Carlson (University of Utah), Amanda Miller (University of Indianapolis) and Sharon Sassler (Cornell University) appeared in the April 2018 issue of Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World. The research, which focused on specific household tasks, followed up on the group’s 2016 publication that found couples who divide the housework tend to have better sex lives than those who don’t. Both studies received attention from national media, including Marie Claire and The Chicago Tribune.
The new study asked couples about their attitudes towards the division of household chores like dishwashing, meal preparation, cleaning, shopping, laundry, home maintenance and bills. Researchers found that dishwashing mattered the most to women in determining relationship satisfaction, while men were more concerned about shared shopping. For couples who didn’t share the dishwashing, this chore was the biggest source of discontent among women.
Amanda Miller, associate professor and chair of sociology, said the study offers several important findings.
“Certainly over time, from the early 1990s to the mid-2000s, conventional divisions of labor lead to less satisfaction and egalitarian divisions of labor lead to greater satisfaction,” Miller said.
For couples, it means that sharing chores does a lot more than just getting the task accomplished.
“What we think is happening is that it’s really fostering a sense of teamwork in the couple. Whenever you prepare meals together or do the dishes together, that’s time to reflect on the day and spend some time enjoying one another’s company. You feel like you’ve accomplished something together,” Miller said.
Another key idea is that shared shopping can stand-in for shared decision-making. Looking beyond day-to-day decision-making at the grocery store, Miller said there are implications for how financial power is divided within the relationship.
“Who gets to negotiate how much we’re spending, particularly on the larger purchases? When that’s mutually decided, perhaps that’s likely to lead to greater relationship satisfaction,” Miller explained.
The study included low- to moderate-income couples, a significant factor that demonstrates the division of household labor isn’t limited to college-educated, higher-income couples.
“This is really showing that gender egalitarianism is diffusing throughout the population,” Miller said.
As more couples divide household chores, Miller said there’s pressure to “keep up with the Joneses.” Women from previous generations who typically worked during the day would come home to face the chores without much help from their husbands, Miller said. At the time, the situation was the same for their friends. But today’s trend of sharing tasks creates a new set of expectations for couples.
“Now when you look around and you see that many of your friends’ husbands are doing a big share of the housework and childcare, it feels particularly negative for you if you are the one who’s the outlier,” Miller explained.
She emphasized that there’s no “right way” of dividing household chores.
“Quite frankly, the right way to do this is the way that both members of a couple want to do it. They need to make sure they’re on the same page of what they want this arrangement to look like,” she said.