Experimental Economics

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 50–71 | Cite as

What if women earned more than their spouses? An experimental investigation of work-division in couples

  • François Cochard
  • Hélène Couprie
  • Astrid Hopfensitz
Original Paper


Female specialization on household work and male specialization on labor-market work is a widely observed phenomenon across time and countries. This absence of gender neutrality with respect to work-division is known as the “work-division puzzle”. Gender differences regarding characteristics (preferences, productivity) and context (wage rates, social norms) are generally recognized as competing explanations for this fact. We experimentally control for context and productivity to investigate preferences for work-division by true co-habiting couples, in a newly developed specialization task. Efficiency in this task comes at the cost of inequality, giving higher earnings to the “advantaged” player. We compare behavior when men (or women) are in the advantaged position, which corresponds to the traditional (or power) couple case where he (or she) earns more. Women and men contribute equally to the household public good in all conditions. This result allows us to rule out some of the standard explanations of the work-division puzzle.


Experiment on couples Time allocation Work-division 

JEL Classification

D13 C99 J16 



We would like to acknowledge financial support from the ANR-DFG project TIPI ANR-08-FASHS-018 (French-German co-operation program) and the ANR project SINT ANR-15-CE33-0005-01. Support by ANR Labex IAST is gratefully acknowledged. We are indebted to Klenio Barbosa, Stéphane Cezerra, Marion Podesta, Lee Dinetan and Jiakun Zheng for excellent research assistance, to Kene Boun My for software programming and to the editor and two anonymous referees for their comments and suggestions. All errors remain our own.

Supplementary material

10683_2017_9524_MOESM1_ESM.docx (398 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 398 kb)


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Copyright information

© Economic Science Association 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CRESE EA3190Université Bourgogne Franche-ComtéBesançonFrance
  2. 2.Université de Cergy-Pontoise (THEMA)Cergy-PontoiseFrance
  3. 3.Toulouse School of EconomicsUniversity of Toulouse CapitoleToulouseFrance

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