How is Work Load Distributed between Husbands and Wives?

“Happy Life; Happy Marriage” Series

The feeling of an unfair distribution of chores in the home causes too many unhappy marriages to count. The August issue of Time Magazine shares some interesting new research on the issue of work distribution. Taking an honest look at the data might just change your perceptions.

The article was written by a wife and working mother who believed she herself was carrying too much of the burden of childcare and chores at home.  Her conviction that she was carrying a heavier load was only validated by her female friends and by books she read. She admits her perception “virtually guaranteed” that she would be be “pissed off” when her husband got home from work each day after she had bathed and fed the kids. Not exactly the setup for the ideal happy home life.

You can imagine her surprise when she found large new studies that show hubbies aren’t the slackers many of us think they are. Before you jump in and say, “You don’t know my husband,” read the full article called “Chore Wars,” or at least continue reading my summary here.

The headline on the cover: “Let it go. Make peace. Men and women, it turns out, work the same amount.”

 I know, I know. My husband doesn’t dust or clean toilets either. But the study counted up the hours men and women work on the job (paid work) and the hours they work in the home (food prep/cleanup, housework, and child care). Instead of lamenting why men don’t chip in more at home, researchers set out to determine just how men and women allocated their time instead of assuming men were just jerks. By isolating only who does more housework, researchers had been neglecting to remember that families needed to earn money as well. They found men were increasingly spending more hours at work.

The time analysis concluded that men and women with full-time jobs have almost equal total workloads, with or without kids under age 18. The largest discrepancy is when the kids are under 6, moms put in an average of five more hours a week than dads.  The longer a wife stays employed, the more her husband is likely to pitch in at home, says the research. In addition, the older the children get, the less child care time is required, and the more free time goes up for moms.

Stay-at-home mothers benefited even more than working moms, as husbands have increased the amount of time on active parenting as a result of cultural shifts.

Men have tripled the amount of domestic help since 1965, while having few role models from their own fathers on how to be an active father and a domestic helper while still bringing home the bacon. (Let this be a lesson that we all need to teach our sons how to be good future husbands!)

Ironically, the couples who split paid and unpaid work the most evenly were often parents who are blue collar workers and have no flexibility in work hours. Couples who were more flexible tended to have men who put more hours in at work and women who reduced their hours and picked up more slack at home.

Before I let the men off the hook, I think the easiest way to make a wife feel better about the marriage is to help out more in the home. It’s also likely to lead to a healthier sex life, as your wife won’t be carrying around so much resentment. So, if you can do more at home, or if you’re not pulling your weight, you won’t get my sympathy. If you’re not sure what to do, just ask.

But I have to agree that after evaluating the data, many wives may just have to cut some slack to their hardworking men. We also have to realize there are other solutions to housework, such as delegating some chores to children, hiring help (for lawn care, cleaning or child care), and not having unrealistically high expectations. We also need to ask for specific help rather than complain that “no one helps out.” Also, remember the post about dividing the jobs according to who is most efficient and most enjoys (or tolerates) them.

In the next post, I’ll provide a key solution for busy moms and wives who feel they are just not getting the opportunity to relax and recharge.  Monday, I’ll address the unique pressures that researchers say married fathers are facing in today’s climate. I’d like to hear if you agree or not.

For now, I think the message to us all is that bickering about who does what isn’t helping us build marital unity, and we all know it. So, I have to agree with Time that we need to “let it go” and “make peace.”

Related Link:
Splitting Chores 50-50 with Spouse is Recipe for Disaster

Photo courtesy of by Andrey Kiselev

5 responses to “How is Work Load Distributed between Husbands and Wives?

  1. Interesting, and something I have thought about a lot over the years myself. I see no reason if a man goes out to work why the woman (if it happens to be that way round) shouldn’t be responsible for the bulk of the home-based tasks. Afterall unless money simply isn’t an object, the reason one person is at home instead of work is to be caring for the growing family?
    Afterall you can manage a lot of your own time and for some part have a certain sort of freedom.
    Having said this it doesn’t mean life can’t be stressful just as if going out to work in a conventional job and so I feel your point about moaning to the other person is important. Share frustrations yes, but as if with a friend. Afterall, isn’t that who our other halves are supposed to be, our best friends?
    Being there to share and help each other, not to bully and pass blame?
    I agree that men especially are under immense social pressures to be good providers and also live up to expectations in the home so as not to be considered chauvinistic, while women who go out to work after having children can be put up on some kind of pedestal in society.

    • I agree that how you share your frustrations is so important. I just wrote a post about revising your criticism. We know that how we express and hear criticism greatly affects the reaction. Sticking to the facts and sharing our feelings are the best way to go about it, rather than accusing or complaining. I also agree that if one person works more outside the home, it makes sense that the person home more should be able to do more home tasks. When kids are very small this can be tough, but as they get older, the family should get into a routine where even younger kids can help out. Thanks for the comment!

  2. I’m so happy I stumbled across your blog! I’m not married, but I’m a therapist/social worker and do a lot of work around families and relationships. Thank you for such robust (and research-based) information.

  3. Pingback: Are Husbands under More Pressure than Ever? | Marriage Gems

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