Gender equality at home doesn't protect against divorce, study says

Published: Monday, Dec. 3 2012 3:00 p.m. MST

Studies say men are happier when they share in housework — but gender equality at home does not, by itself, prevent divorce, a new study says.

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A new study from Norway shows that couples who do an equal amount of the housework are not less likely to divorce — although an earlier study shows men are happier when they do their fair share.

The website Views and News from Norway (newsinenglish.no) looked at a study called "Equality at home" that was conducted by the Norwegian Social Research Institute (abbreviated "NOVA" in Norwegian) and found "the greatest number of divorces occurred among couples who divided housework equally. More equality, it seems, led to more divorces."

Views and News from Norway also translated what NOVA researcher Thomas Hansen told the newspaper Aftenposten: "What we've seen is that sharing equal responsibility for work in the home doesn't necessarily contribute to contentment. … One would think that break-ups would occur more often in families with less equality at home, but our statistics show the opposite."

In the English-language summary at the end of the published study, the authors say there was no link between a traditional division of labor (meaning the woman does most of the work) and a lower risk of divorce. "On the contrary," the authors say, "the risk of divorce (over a period of four years) is higher when he does as much or more housework than her, compared to when she does most of the housework."

Allison Linn with Today said the study challenges the "conventional wisdom that sharing household duties such as scrubbing the kitchen and toilets will reduce your odds of divorce."

"The main point is that there is little to indicate that gender equality at home protects against divorce, as many people think and as is typically maintained by scholars in the field," Hansen told Today in an email.

Why then is there greater risk of divorce?

The study authors say in the English summary of their work, "Differences in values and attitudes are a likely cause: in traditional couples where she does most of the housework, both partners may tend to hold a high value of marriage and a more traditional attitude towards divorce. Untraditional couples, where he does the most of the housework, may hold a less traditional or more modern view about marriage, whereby marital dissatisfaction more easily leads to marital break-up. If so, the division of housework is no 'cause' of later divorce."

The Telegraph reported on an earlier study that doing chores makes men happier: "(H)usbands who do more chores in the home are happier than those who do not, according to experts at Cambridge University. … The researchers expected to find that where men shouldered more of the burden, women's happiness levels were higher. In fact they found that it was the men who were happier while their wives and girlfriends appeared to be largely unmoved. Those men who did more housework generally reported less work-life conflict and were scored slightly higher for wellbeing overall."

So how do women feel about housework?

Views and News from Norway reported that the study showed that "only 25 percent shared other domestic duties equally. In around 11 percent of the partnerships surveyed, women did almost all the cleaning, laundry and cooking, for example, while they did 'a bit more' in 60 percent of couples questioned. The study indicated that many women don't want to relinquish responsibility for, example, the laundry, or for cleaning and home decorating. Women seem to rule inside the home, while men took care of traditional chores like yard work or looking after the garage and automobiles."

"Maybe it's sometimes seen as a good thing to have very clear roles with lots of clarity … where one person is not stepping on the other's toes," Hansen told the Daily Telegraph. "There could be less quarrels, since you can easily get into squabbles if both have the same roles and one has the feeling that the other is not pulling his or her own weight."

Care2.com pointed to U.S. labor statistics from June that "found that all women (even those with full-time jobs) spend more time on household duties than men, about 2.6 hours per day compared to 2.1 hours. Women still do the vast majority of daily cooking and cleaning, as well as child care, while men spend more time on yard work and home maintenance projects."

Author Lori Borgman wrote a column about the study: "You can be sure I don't want the husband reading the Norwegian study that found couples who share housework equally are more likely to divorce. We don't share housework equally, but the husband does vacuum about four times a year, and I don't want him to quit now, claiming it jeopardizes our marriage. I'm not one of those wives who want my husband doing 50 percent of the housework. I couldn't stand the pain. You've not suffered until you've watched the man iron a shirt. I'm not saying he's slow, but grass can grow faster. … If a kid gets sick in the night, he is as capable of throwing the sheets in the wash as I am. If he's working a lot, I can fire up the mower. If other demands have left me in a bind, he knows how to clean a bathroom. He actually does a more thorough job."

EMAIL: mdegroote@desnews.com

TWITTER: @degroote

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