The Great Divide -- Is Housework an Equally Shared Responsibility?

by Julie Snyder

Sharing HouseworkYou've probably played the "who does the most around here" game at some point in your relationship, even if you have a stellar track record.

It's common for arguments to bubble up and focus on household chores, who does what, who does the most and who's slacking.

Do you hear yourself saying statements like this one: "I made breakfast every day this week, picked up the dry cleaning and did the grocery shopping. What did you do?"

Perhaps you feel like you're carrying an unequal workload. You're not alone. A 2012 University of Cambridge study, published in the journal PLoS ONE supported those feelings.

The researchers found that 42-year-old women do more household chores than their male counterparts. It also reveals something unexpected -- taking on a fair share of the chores improves a man's well-being!

A study in "TIME" magazine points to an increase in men doing more around the house than ever before. The same study indicates that working women have a greater perception of being overworked.

Who's Working Hardest?

Certain things are inevitable and cause future flare-ups. Someone will forget to pack a toothbrush. The stop light will turn red when you're rushed. You argue over household chores.

The "TIME" magazine study shows that:

• The workloads have been converging. Married men with children under 18 spend only 20 minutes less on work -- paid or unpaid -- than their wives each day.
• While men are doing more chores, women are spending more time in paid work than ever before.
• Men aren't doing the same amount around the house as women, but women aren't doing the same amount of paid work as men.
• Compared to 1965, men do nearly three times as much cooking, four times as many house chores and three times the amount of childcare today.
• Women still do more unpaid work in general, but doing nearly four times as much paid work as in 1965.
• The hardest workers are mothers employed full-time with children under six-years-old. On average, they work 73 hours a week, half as paid work, a quarter caring for children and a quarter doing unpaid family work.
• The longer a wife stays employed, the more her husband is likely to chip in at home.

It's safe to say that men and women both work hard and that while it may not feel like it, responsibilities are converging.

Chores Makes Men Happy

The Cambridge study reached conclusions that many women consider unimaginable. Researchers found that men benefited from a less traditional gender role divide in household chores.

Many men are happiest when making an equal contribution and taking on tasks such as cooking, washing, cleaning, shopping and property maintenance.

"The academics expected to find that men's work-family conflict rose, and their well-being fell, when they did more housework," the news release states. "In practice, they found the opposite, with conflict falling, and well-being going up."

Who Benefits When the Work Load Is Even?

When partners share the work load, women feel less stress. Plus a man doing his fair share around the house may even boost his female partner's sex drive. Bonus! According to Ian Kerner, PhD, sex therapist, the best foreplay for women is "choreplay," or when a man does household chores without being asked.

Studies suggest that husbands who share the household load are happier, for obvious reasons. There's more time for other things!

Balance is Attainable

Learn to live with some messes. Does every chore need doing? Can you cut corners? What obligations can be deferred?

Accept each other's workmanship. If your partner takes on a task you've been doing, and does it adequately, that's one less burden for you!

Don't keep score. Make an "everything" list from mopping to earning a paycheck. Then, divide and conquer. If your spouse isn't doing a fair share, the everything list will show it.

Rotate the jobs you both hate. At your house it might be dishes or cleaning the toilet or folding laundry.

Make small changes. Could you cook more meals on weekends? Would an occasional cleaning service free up time? Can you enlist the kids' help?

Communicate. Will your sock drawer magically refill? You can hope, but it works better to tell your spouse. Communication turns your expectations into reality.

Plan free time. Build in a block of time in your schedule just for yourself and your partner, even if it's just an hour a week. Use that time to boost your mood and refresh your spirit.

Get rid of the martyr badge. If you really think about it, everyone is working hard.

Does a "divide" exist at your house? Are you keeping score? How did you or do you plan to attain balance?

Photo courtesy iStockphoto.