A recent study, headed by Professor Daniel L. Carlson of Georgia State and published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, analysed data from a large sample of heterosexual American couples. Its take-home conclusion was that the division of labour within the relationship is strongly tied to the satisfaction both parties experience in the long-term. Data was drawn from myriad aspects of domestic living, from seemingly trivial tasks, such as taking out the rubbish and vacuuming, to the most crucial factors affecting the wellbeing of the relationship, such as the frequency of sex and both parties’ perception of the overall level of fairness.
The study found that around half of all couples take a conventional approach to the division of labour. That said, it’s interesting to note the massive drop from the 80% of women who reported to be the primary doers of housework in their relationships as recently as the ’90s. This increased egalitarianism is likely representative of, amongst other things, a heightened female workforce and a trend towards more flexible working hours and schedules.
Carlson and his colleagues established that the frequency of sex – and, alongside it, the level of sexual satisfaction – increased with self-reported egalitarianism. Furthermore, more egalitarian couples appeared to have a much higher overall sense of wellbeing in their relationships, happier and more satisfied with their love lives than were those individuals in more traditionally structured coupledom. A sense of fairness was perceived highest in those relationships in which housework was distributed most equitably.
The most successful relationships, it would then seem, are the most egalitarian.
However, there is an important addendum to the crux of Carlson and colleagues’ findings. Whilst it’s undoubtedly important for couples to share chores and the logistics of day-to-day domestic living, those couples who have the highest levels of satisfaction and happiness of all are those in which the two parties play to their strengths and understand that having clearly defined roles and responsibilities does not automatically equate to inequality. It may just so happen that the woman is an effective ironer and washer-upper, happy to take on these chores whilst her male counterpart deals with DIY, at which he is equally proficient. The fact that they would just so happen to fall into the sex-specific roles of the conventional couple is of no consequence as long as both of them are content with the distribution of work, and feel that, by playing to their own respective strengths, they are creating more time to spend together. This is not sexist – it could just as equally be that the man is an efficient ironer and washer-upper, the woman an excellent DIYer. As long as the two people in the coupledom are truly fine with their housework arrangements, nothing else matters!
At The Vida Consultancy, we have previously discussed egalitarianism in gay couples, which by definition are not subject to the same societal rules of the traditional couple. A fascinating study of almost 1000 couples of both orientations found that gay couples share the burden of housework more equitably. Robert-Jay Green, founder of The Rockway Institute for Research into LGBT Psychology, has corroborated these findings. In his opinion, homosexual coupledom throws traditional gender roles out the window. Both partners, he contends, consider one another equals on a fundamental level, transcending outmoded societal dictate.
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