I used to have married neighbors who carefully listed all their chores and divided them as equally as possible, fifty/fifty split, even though one worked full time and the other was a stay-at-home parent. Each frequently felt they were doing more than their share, and they frequently revised those lists. Perhaps this contributed to their later divorce. There is a better way.
The authors of the book Spousonomics say “there are great rewards to be had from trading smartly and great wastes of time and energy from trying to do everything yourself, or even from splitting things in half.” Think of your marriage as a business comprising two trading partners who exchange services, for example the completion of chores, they suggest.
Co-authors Jenny Anderson and Paula Szuchman recommend using the theory of Comparative Advantage, which says it’s not efficient for you to take on every single task you’re good at, only those tasks you’re relatively better at compared with other tasks. If you think of a well-run corporation, each person within the business has a specialty. The organization works more efficiently when everyone does what they are best at, even if they are capable of doing other things.
Couples who force the fifty/fifty division of chores, without regard to what each person is best at and enjoys most, lack specialties. They also tend to argue more about who is doing what and whose turn it is to take on a certain job. Life becomes about deciding what is “fair”. Other couples miscalculate their comparative advantages, perhaps insisting that the husband always walks the dog and mows the lawn when the wife is better suited to these jobs and enjoys them more.
Modern marriage has changed roles so dramatically that every task is debatable—who will do the laundry, care for the children, pay the bills, and wash the dishes. A 2007 Pew Research Center study asked couples “What makes marriage work?” The answers were 1) faithfulness 2) sex and 3) sharing household chores. Two years later, the Boston Consulting Group asked what couples argue most about. This time money was number one, followed by household chores. Clearly, these seemingly unimportant decisions about chores can become important issues in the marriage.
The authors provided a number of case studies to play out the problems and solutions. They used economic lessons about how countries make products they are most suited to produce and then trade then rather than each country attempting to produce all their own products. They do that based on what they are best and fastest at making, at the lowest cost.
For couples deciding how to divide the work load, determine who is best and fastest at various tasks, taking into consideration what they enjoy doing most. For example, if the woman is better and faster at tidying the house and doing the dishes, those should be her jobs. If he is better and faster at doing the laundry and mowing the yard, those should be his jobs. The couple together can save significant amounts of time by assigning the person who does the task most efficiently. This is time that would be forever lost if they focused instead on what was “most fair”. Instead, they can use this time for fun and leisure.
Long ago, I determined I was best at doing the laundry and keeping the house tidy. My husband is much better at mowing the lawn, maintaining the home and the cars. We both do the cooking. It seems we determined our comparative advantage without realizing we were doing it.
Do you and your spouse argue about doing the dishes, cooking, cleaning or laundry? Is it time to do a serious analysis of your comparative advantages? How do you divide household chores?