New psychology research uncovers gender differences in perceptions of housework inequality

Cohabitating men and women tend to have different views on what a fair division of housework looks like, according to new research published in the journal Sex Roles.

“Despite the increase in women’s participation in the labour force over the last century, the gendered division of housework withstood time, remaining unfavourable for women. Research reveals that issues of inequality in the family sphere undermine relationship success, by creating tension, conflicts, and dissatisfaction between romantic partners,” said study author Andréanne Charbonneau of Université de Moncton.

“The discrepancy in the home is also a major barrier for women’s career. We believe that it is important to study partners’ perceptions of equity and their attempts to provoke or prevent changes in housework allocation to better understand the persistent gender gap in the home and its consequences for relational outcomes.”

For their study, the researchers collected data from 204 newly cohabiting heterosexual Canadian couples, who were between the ages of 18 and 30 years. The couples had been in a relationship with their current partner for an average of 3.31 years.

Overall, women tended to dedicate more time to housework than did men. But men tended to spend more time on professional or academic responsibilities that made them unavailable for household labor. The male participants viewed this arrangement as fair, while the female participants did not.

Women wanted to share the housework equally, regardless of time spent on professional or academic work.

“Our results reveal that women often continue to be disadvantaged by the division of housework. Yet, men tend to perceive the inequality in the home as fair, since their time spent on paid work or academics tend to be greater than their partner’s,” Charbonneau told PsyPost.

“Although men’s perceptions of equity reflect the overall distribution of time inside and outside the home, the fact that they consider the division of housework to be fair when they are benefitting from the housework arrangement may also continue to structure couples’ interactions in the home, which in turn, may continue to be a barrier for women’s commitment in the workforce or other public engagements.”

Previous research has indicated that women tend to do more household chores than their male partners, no matter how much they work or earn in a job outside the home.

Charbonneau and her colleagues also examined the housework negotiation strategies that couples engaged in.

“We found that individuals who feel under-benefitted in their relationships tend to use various strategies to restore actual and psychological equity, such as trying to persuade their partners to increase their contribution and rewarding them with something valuable when they do so,” Charbonneau said.

“We also found that, when perceptions of inequity in regard to housework allocation exist in the relationship, the way one partner responds to the other partner’s demands for change can affect the quality of the relationship. Such results highlight the need to teach heterosexual romantic partners how to approach household management efficiently.”

But the new study — like all research — includes some limitations.

“To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first to have investigated the sequence of demands and responses from each partner in the negotiation process of housework, using data from both partners,” Charbonneau explained.

“Despite the contribution made by our study, our findings may differ in other birth cohorts and cultures, as social, political, and cultural forces influence the way individuals behave and perceive inequalities in their home. Future research should replicate our results among different cohorts and cultures using longitudinal data.”

“This research was part of my Phd studies, which I conducted under the supervision of Mylène Lachance-Grzela,” Charbonneau added.

The study, “Housework Allocation, Negotiation Strategies, and Relationship Satisfaction in Cohabiting Emerging Adult Heterosexual Couples“, was authored by Andréanne Charbonneau, Mylène Lachance-Grzela, and Geneviève Bouchard1