There’s nothing sexy about domestic chores – well, you’d have to work pretty darned hard to make them sexy! For many of us, they are a routine drudgery that’s needed to sustain a smoothly running household.
Couples argue over domestic chores almost as much as they argue over money, and when they can’t resolve these issues, stress levels are likely to rise and resentments creep in.
So why does this happen?
In same-sex relationships, the division of labour is likely to be evenly shared – or at least, this is the ideal that lesbian and gay couples often work towards. In contrast, research on heterosexual relationships shows that the responsibility for domestic chores falls disproportionately onto women.
Whatever your relationship looks like, inequalities in the division of household chores are likely to reflect differences between you and your partner in terms of income and job status or primary childcare roles.
The gendered division of housework has its roots in a work-life balance that no longer exists for most people. Emerging in the 1950s, it is premised on men being the sole breadwinners and women staying at home to look after the home and children. Today dual income households are typical, but cultural norms are hard to shake off.
Whatever your relationship looks like, inequalities in the division of household chores are likely to reflect differences between you and your partner in terms of income and job status or primary childcare roles. And the perceptions that each of you have of the time and effort you spend on housework may diverge from reality.
Studies of domestic labour in heterosexual households have shown that men are far more likely to overestimate the time they spend on chores, while women underestimate their time.
So how does this look in your relationship? Do you think you and your partner equally share household chores? Does the split in domestic labour feel fair?
Studies of domestic labour in heterosexual households have shown that men are far more likely to overestimate the time they spend on chores, while women underestimate their time. Women are likely to perceive certain household tasks as part of their role, whereas men believe that they’re going above and beyond when they complete the same tasks. Men tend to think they are "helping out," rather than getting something done because it needs doing.
Having children extends inequalities in the gendered division of household chores still further. While women are now an essential part of the labour market and often work as many hours as their male partners, they are still expected to put a ‘second shift’ back at home.
Does any of this ring true in your relationship? Maybe you’ve already identified this as a problem area and are trying to address it? If so, you’re not alone.
Discuss with your partner how you both feel about the division of domestic chores. Make a list of them, and see how they’re currently divided up between you. Is there scope for change in who does what?
Remember, compromise is likely to be required here! If there is a chore that your partner detests, why not do that one yourself? If finances permit then you may agree to pay for a cleaner or home help, but remember to share the organization of this too.
Jacqui is Professor of Sociology and Intimacy at The Open University in the UK and Chief Relationships Officer at Paired.
Her 'Enduring Love?' study on long-term couple relationships has received widespread critical acclaim, with findings being reported in national and international media, including: BBC World News, CNN, the New York Post, and more.
Her research and impact activities have been recognised by three prestigious awards: the BSA Philip Abrams Memorial prize (2009, the Open University Engaging Research Award (2014), the Evelyn Gillian Research Impact Award (2016).