Journal of Adult Development

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 179–189

Division of Labor Among Lesbian and Heterosexual Parenting Couples: Correlates of Specialized Versus Shared Patterns


  • Charlotte J. Patterson
    • University of Virginia
  • Erin L. Sutfin
    • University of Virginia
  • Megan Fulcher
    • University of Virginia

DOI: 10.1023/B:JADE.0000035626.90331.47

Cite this article as:
Patterson, C.J., Sutfin, E.L. & Fulcher, M. Journal of Adult Development (2004) 11: 179. doi:10.1023/B:JADE.0000035626.90331.47


One of the central tasks that couples face in coparenting is the division of labor. In this study, we explored division of family labor among lesbian and heterosexual couples who were parenting 4 to 6 year-old children. Sixty-six families, half headed by lesbian couples and half headed by heterosexual couples, participated in the study. Measures of parental attitudes, resources, demographics, and division of labor were collected. As expected, lesbian couples were more likely to divide paid and unpaid labor evenly, whereas heterosexual couples were more likely to show specialized patterns, with husbands investing more time in paid employment and wives devoting more time to unpaid family work. Structural variables (e.g., husband's hours in paid employment) were the best predictors of division of labor among heterosexual couples. Among lesbian couples, however, ideological variables (e.g., ideas about ideal divisions of labor) were the better predictors. Discrepancies in occupational prestige were greater among heterosexual than among lesbian couples. Discussion centers on the ways in which gender and sexual orientation may relate to couples' decisions about division of labor.

division of laborlesbian motherparentingfamiliessexual orientation

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2004