From: Wade Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Wed 13 Nov 2002 - 13:54:13 GMT
A couple's work
Study says unmarried couples split chores better
By Patricia Wen, Globe Staff, 11/9/2002
The egalitarian model for modern couples goes something like this: A man
and woman both work, divide the household chores, and live together in
New studies find that this model applies fairly well for men and women
who live together, but not for couples who tie the knot. Marriage,
sociologists say, brings with it powerful social traditions that cause
women to do a far greater share of housework - often twice as much -
even when both spouses work and don't have children. Cohabitation
doesn't come with the ''good wife'' image, so women who simply live with
a man don't carry as great a housework load.
''Marriage still has a very powerful effect on people, even if they
don't realize it,'' said Melissa Milkie, a University of Maryland
sociologist. ''When you marry, you get a list of expectations about the
good wife and the good husband. When you cohabitate, you're just sharing
Joy Clark, 30, who married her husband in May after living with him for
more than a year, said becoming a ''wife'' changed what others expected
of her. Both civil engineers from North Andover, she and her husband
have always shared cooking, dishes, and laundry fairly equally - and now
she's worried she's being judged by relatives as unwifely because of it.
''It's as if I should now be taking care of my husband and creating my
nest,'' she said.
New studies comparing live-in and married couples give researchers a
novel way to show just how social traditions - the nurturing wife and
the money-earning husband - continue to affect today's working couples.
Sociologists have long known the importance of other factors in
explaining the imbalance in chores, including each spouse's work hours
and earnings, educational levels and the presence of children.
But these factors never fully explained one persistent finding: In study
after study, men never shared equally in the drudgery of routine
household work, such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry, even when they
worked fewer hours or earned less money than their wives. Several
studies in the past year put a married man's contribution to housework
at anywhere from seven to 10 hours a week, compared to a wife's
contribution of 18 or 20 hours a week. The range depended on whether the
definition of chores went beyond daily tasks to include raking leaves,
paying bills, and maintaining the car.
Using the more liberal definition of household chores, a University of
Maryland study this year found that typical wives spent an average of
about 18 hours a week on housework, eight hours more a week than their
husbands. In dual-income couples, the gap decreased but working women
still did about six more hours of chores than men, researchers say.
In trying to understand the imbalance, several sociologists embarked on
studies of cohabitating couples to see how men and women - free of
marriage's social norms - divided household chores. In all these
studies, they found that cohabitating couples shared more equitably
(though women still did quite a bit more) and they also were happier as a result of such a balanced arrangement. In fact, cohabitating couples were at greater risk of breaking up if they fell into traditional patterns and deviated from egalitarianism.
''There's a principle of equity that works for cohabitators,'' said
Julie Brines, a sociologist at the University of Washington in Seattle,
who has done extensive work studying couple arrangements.
One study of more than 7,000 married and cohabitating couples found that
women in dual-income married households had more strife in their
relationship than cohabitating working couples. Married women took on
roughly 71 percent of the total housework burden and generally had to
effectively ''buy'' their way out of housework by earning more.
Unmarried women who lived with men, however, took on slightly less
housework - 67 percent of the burden - and did not have to earn more to
shed chores, said the study's author, Lynn Magdol, a sociologist at the
State University of New York in Buffalo.
Magdol said the added strife in married life has to do with wives and
husbands still struggling to define their roles against conventional
''Marriage comes with expectations about roles,'' said Magdol, who
presented her study on household chores at this fall's American
Sociological Association meeting. ''We're changing our expectations -
and that's stressful for couples.''
In the end, she found that traditional marriages in which the husband
focuses on career and the wife on home had the least conflict.
Philip Cohen, a sociologist from the University of California in Irvine,
said his recent study provides advice for any woman looking to marry a
man who will pull his weight in the world of chores: Live with him first.
In a study published in August in the Journal of Marriage and Family,
Cohen found that couples who married after living together divided
chores somewhat more equally than married couples who never lived
together. For instance, husbands who had a cohabitating stint did 34
percent of the household chores, but husbands who went straight to
marriage did 30 percent.
It may be that men who choose to live with a woman, rather than marry
her, are more nontraditional from the start, so they would pitch in
around the house regardless of their relationship status, Cohen said.
But he believes his study shows that men who live with women simply
become trained in the rules of equal co-habitation, then bring that
pattern into the marriage.
Ken King, a Newton lawyer, found that to be true in his relationship
with his wife. They lived together for about five years before getting
married eight years ago. He said his contribution to housework falls far
short of 50 percent, but he thinks he and his wife have worked out a
system of managing the household work while both working and raising
their child. A key element is recognizing how you want to be different
from your parents' generation.
''There's a danger of importing baggage into marriage,'' said King, 48.
''You don't want to think this will be like Mom and Pop or Ozzie and Harriet.''
Patricia Wen can be reached at email@example.com.
This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 11/9/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.
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