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Reconceptualizing the Gendered Division of Housework: Number of Shared Tasks and Partners’ Relationship Quality

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Understanding the stalled gender revolution requires understanding how couples’ domestic arrangements are related to their reports of relationship quality. Research, however, is equivocal on whether egalitarian housework arrangements are optimal for both men’s and women’s relationship quality (e.g., perceived equity and relationship satisfaction). Inconsistent findings may result from the fact that conventional approaches to measuring housework divisions do not account for how couples construct their domestic arrangements. This study reconceptualizes the division of routine housework as a count of tasks one shares equally with their partner, and compares this measure to a conventional measure of male partner’s proportion of overall housework in predicting relationship quality. Regression analyses are conducted for men and women in mixed-sex, married and cohabiting unions from two datasets: the 1992–1994 wave of the U.S. National Survey of Families and Households (N = 10,498) and the 2006 Marital and Relationship Survey (N = 1,065). Results indicate substantial variability in the degree of task sharing in couples. Consistent with social exchange theory, men’s overall proportion of housework is positively associated with women’s relationship quality but negatively associated with men’s relationship quality. Number of equally shared tasks, however, is positively associated with both men’s and women’s relationship quality, supporting an equity perspective. Overall, findings indicate that egalitarian arrangements where partners’ share equally in the completion of housework tasks are the most mutually beneficial arrangement, resulting in the highest levels of relationship quality for both men and women.

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Availability of Data and Material

The National Survey of Families and Households is publicly available here: The Marital and Relationship Survey (MARS) was supported by the Initiative in Population Research at The Ohio State University (Daniel T. Lichter, principal investigator). Data access is available upon request from the primary investigator.

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Correspondence to Daniel L. Carlson.

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Carlson, D.L. Reconceptualizing the Gendered Division of Housework: Number of Shared Tasks and Partners’ Relationship Quality. Sex Roles 86, 528–543 (2022).

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