Invisible Household Labor and Ramifications for Adjustment: Mothers as Captains of Households

Abstract

We address the issue of invisible labor in the home by examining how the distribution of the mental and emotional labor inherent in managing the household between spouses may be linked with women’s well-being, including their satisfaction with life, partner satisfaction, feelings of emptiness, and experiencing role overload. In a sample of 393 U.S. married/partnered mothers, mostly of upper-middle class backgrounds with dependent children at home, results showed that a majority of women reported that they alone assumed responsibility for household routines involving organizing schedules for the family and maintaining order in the home. Some aspects of responsibilities related to child adjustment were primarily handled by mothers, including being vigilant of children’s emotions, whereas other aspects were shared with partners, including instilling values in the children. Responsibility was largely shared for household finances. Regression analyses showed that after controlling for dimensions of emotional and physical intimacy, feeling disproportionately responsible for household management, especially child adjustment, was associated with strains on mothers’ personal well-being as well as lower satisfaction with the relationship. The implications of our work highlight the need to consider the burden of household management on mothers’ well-being and speak to mothers’ own needs for support and care as the primary managers of the household. In future research on division of labor, it will be useful to measure these critical but often neglected dimensions of who coordinates the household, given potential ramifications of this dimension for the quality of marriages and women’s personal well-being.

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Acknowledgments

We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of Masters and Doctoral students in Luthar’s prior lab at Teachers College, Columbia University, and funding by the National Institutes of Health (R01DA014385; R13MH082592). This work was supported with funds from Authentic Connections.

Funding

This research was supported with funding by the National Institutes of Health (R01DA014385; R13MH082592).

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LC performed the statistical analysis, participated in the interpretation of the data, and drafted the manuscript. SSL conceived of the study and participated in its design and coordination and helped to draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Lucia Ciciolla.

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Ciciolla, L., Luthar, S.S. Invisible Household Labor and Ramifications for Adjustment: Mothers as Captains of Households. Sex Roles 81, 467–486 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-018-1001-x

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Keywords

  • Division of labor
  • Well-being
  • Partner satisfaction
  • Intimacy
  • Motherhood