Why Chore Lists Don’t Help Couples Share Housework Equally

In a new study currently under review, Carlson analyzed survey data on over 1,000 U.S. heterosexual couples who were either married or living together and had kids. The couples answered questions about their division of housework, relationship satisfaction, and perceived equity in the relationship.

The results showed that couples who entirely divvied up the tasks between them, with each responsible for their own set, didn’t tend to be any happier with the relationship than conventional couples where the woman does most or all of the housework. Among generally egalitarian couples, Carlson says just half of the couples who used the “divide up the tasks” method actually found their arrangement to be fair.

“The issue with divvying tasks is that tasks vary in their qualities. Some are more time consuming, less pleasant, and more isolating than others. Divvying tasks is rarely a fair process,” Carlson explains. “When tasks are divvied, chances are that one partner will get the short end of the stick somehow.”

In a draft of the study shared with mindbodygreen, Carlson offers some examples: Grocery shopping, for instance, might actually be pretty pleasant because it gives a person time outside the house and the opportunity to interact with other people. Cleaning the toilet or stovetop, on the other hand, is a pretty solitary task—you do it all by yourself, it’s dirty and kind of gross, and it’s possible that nobody will even notice you did it.

There are also routine tasks (daily things like cooking, doing the dishes, and laundry) and non-routine tasks (less regular things like yardwork, taking care of the car, and paying bills). If one person is saddled with more of the routine tasks, which tend to make up the majority of the time spent doing housework, it can lead to some contention and frustration over time. Even though on paper it may look like the tasks are split down the middle, one person may feel like they’re working on chores constantly while the other is only needing to tackle house tasks every now and then.

“There are a lot of reasons why tasks get divvied unfairly, but one is gender,” Carlson says. “Gender power in relationships mean that women may be deferential to their male partners desires and preferences. Men may use that power to take on tasks that are more ‘enjoyable’ or less onerous.”

In other words, if a man’s assigned tasks are all things that he’s more likely to enjoy (say, car maintenance and yardwork) while his wife’s assigned tasks are the daily shlog of life (cooking and laundry), then it’s likely the woman may not actually feel better about the division of labor even if her husband is technically doing half the tasks.

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