It’s the age-old debate heard in homes across the nation: Who is responsible for the chores?
While recent studies found that men have nearly doubled the amount of housework they’re doing and they’ve tripled the amount of time they’re spending with the kids, women are still doing the majority of the household chores – and neither sex appears to be happy about the division of duties.
A study by the University of Chicago found that 35 percent of women said they do much more than their fair share of the housework, while 45 percent of men said they’re doing roughly their fair share. At the same time, only a quarter of men said they’re doing a bit less. Somehow, the numbers don’t add up, which is probably where the arguments begin.
Pew data found that, for every household task except small repairs, men are more likely to believe that they share tasks equally with their partners, and they’re much less likely to think that their wives do more than they do.
“There is clearly a discrepancy in terms of how each partner views their contribution,” said Daniel Carlson, assistant professor of family, health and policy at the University of Utah. “Men tend to inflate their own contributions, while women tend to overestimate both their own and their partner’s.”
Why this happens isn’t completely clear, but it may stem from the fact that men have historically done less housework, so doing anything may be a huge deal in their minds, Carlson said.
Regardless, the perception is very important.
“Research shows that how couples perceive their arrangements is more important to couples’ outcomes like relationship satisfaction and stability than their actual arrangements,” Carlson said.
The key: fairness. If they each perceive that they each are doing a fair share of the housework, then the reality is that both will be happy with the arrangement.
It all starts with a conversation about who should be doing what chore, but before having that conversation, couples must realize that this is a multilayered struggle. Since they were raised in different households that may have had different ideas of who should be doing what, this conversation may become heated very quickly, said Marie Hartwell-Walker, psychologist and author of “Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.”
“If one person was raised in a stereotypical family, then they come with one template in mind of what should be done,” she said. That person may assume that the woman should be doing the majority of the housework, for example.
Or, one person may say that, since he does every chore outside of the house (mowing the lawn, for example), he doesn’t need to do anything inside the house.
And then there’s the whole question of whether the person who stays at home with the children should also be responsible for all the housework.
The chore topic can bring up a hotbed of issues – moral, philosophical and historical – so it’s best to save the conversation in your household for a time when you’re not stressed.
“Make sure the kids are in bed, you’ve done your day and neither of you are tired,” Hartwell-Walker said. “Save it for a weekend when things are calmer.”
Start the conversation by acknowledging that neither of you likes chores and it’s only human not to want to do them, she suggested.
And then find out which chores the other person absolutely hates – and discover which ones the other person doesn’t mind as much.
Perhaps one person can’t stand doing the dishes, but the other person finds it to be somewhat soothing. Pop that chore on the latter person’s list. But if the latter person always gets frustrated folding the laundry, but the former doesn’t mind it as long as he’s doing it while a game is on TV, then you’ve solved another issue.
Dividing up the chores instead of simply cleaning up the house when you notice that it’s messy is essential because it’s direct and it’s a decision that’s reached by both people, said Meg Keene, founder and editor-in-chief of wedding website A Practical Wedding, which covers newlywed life.
Next, you have to determine your standards, and you have to compromise. If you like your home to be tidy but are married to a slob, then you’ll need a solution.
Hartwell-Walker suggested possibly asking him if he would be willing to help clean the house for 30 minutes every day after dinner, as long as you would be willing to leave his area the way he likes it (messy) with the door closed, so you don’t have to see it.
Finally, they have to determine their roles and what brought them to these roles. If one partner is staying home with the children, does this necessarily mean that he or she should also be responsible for the housework?
“Today, couples find themselves in these arrangements not because they want them but because outside forces – lack of paid leave, wage discrimination, lack of child care options, etc. – pushed them into it,” Carlson said. “This matters because partners may come to resent these arrangements and so, although an outside observer may say it is only logical that you should be responsible for housework because you stay home with the children, this may not be the best arrangement for the couple if it undermines their sense of equity and relationship quality.”
Sarah Mae, a Pennsylvania-based stay-at-home home-schooling mother and author of “Having a Martha Home the Mary Way,” said she and her husband used to argue all the time about cleaning the house.
He would come home from work and expect a spotless house, but after teaching her children all day and writing, she was too wiped out to clean.
“Through a lot of fights and a lot of ups and downs, he had to let go of his expectations and figure out what he could live with,” Mae said.
Today, Mae does the majority of the housework, but her home is not always clean, and her husband, who does his own laundry, realizes that it’s just not possible for her – or him – to do it all. They must compromise and work together to get it done.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day's top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter