Gender equality's final frontier: Who cleans up

Jan 23, 2013 by Susan Kelley

(Phys.org)—Working-class couples who buck convention and live together rather than marry take on traditional roles when it comes to housework, according to a new study by a Cornell sociologist.

Cohabiting women do a disproportionate share of the housework, even when the women work and the men don't—and even when the women want to share the housework more equally, said co-author Sharon Sassler, professor of policy analysis and management.

"When men aren't working, they don't see domestic labor as a means of contributing. In fact, they double down and do less of it, since it challenges their masculinity," Sassler said. "But when men earn more, women—who are almost all working, too—feel obliged to contribute in some way to maintaining the household, generally by cooking and cleaning."

Even where was shared somewhat equally, the women tended to supervise the men's chores; as a result, women retained for its performance.

But not all gender roles go unquestioned among these couples, the researchers found. Most of the women came to their relationships expecting more equal partnerships. Most men preferred to have a partner who also worked for pay, and about one-third of the couples were actively trying to share equally the burden of making money.

Nonetheless, the men seemed content to reap the benefits of partners who brought in an income without challenging their dominant domestic power positions. In fact, none of the couples equally shared household and financial responsibilities, Sassler said. "The connection between and is maintained for many of these men. Almost none of the women who paid the majority of the were awarded the privileges that male providers have traditionally received," she said, such as retaining control of household finances.

Sassler wrote the research with Amanda J. Miller of the University of Indianapolis. Their paper, "The Construction of Gender Among Working-Class ," was published in the December issue of Qualitative Sociology.

The researchers interviewed 30 working-class cohabiting couples between ages 19 and 35. They found the couples fell into three groups: conventional, in which each partner accepts the traditional gender role; contesting, in which one partner (generally the woman) tries to forge a more balanced arrangement, though often unsuccessfully; and counter-conventional, in which the female partner often provides financially and still must perform most household labor.

The research shows that it's tough to change traditional gender roles even among people living together, who ostensibly might be trying to undo the conventional roles of a male breadwinner and female homemaker, Sassler said.

Given that the majority of marriages are preceded by a period of cohabitation, the study suggests that living together sets the stage for re-creating unequal gender roles. The institutionalization of that disadvantage is evident even in informal relationships, Sassler said.

"What's the final frontier of gender equality? Who cleans up."

Explore further: Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

More Men Tackle Household Tasks

Mar 07, 2008

American men are helping with chores and child care more than ever, a trend that ultimately contributes to healthier marriages, according to a researcher at the University of California, Riverside.

Women in Spain still work double shifts

Oct 26, 2010

The proportion of the workforce represented by women rose from 20.7% to 41.1% between 1978 and 2002. However, this trend has not resulted in a similar increase in the proportion of men who participate in household ...

Couples who do the dishes together stay happier

Dec 15, 2009

A new study published by The University of Western Ontario reveals that couples who share the responsibility for paid and unpaid work report higher average measures of happiness and life satisfaction than those in other family ...

Recommended for you

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

10 hours ago

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

13 hours ago

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

Apr 16, 2014

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

gwrede
not rated yet Jan 23, 2013
Gawd, it's so unfair!!!!

But a look at a single woman's household and a single man's household should tell everyone that men and women are different. And I mean born different.

Then again, what's the use of saying it out aloud, even here? Of course I am wrong and politically incorrect.

I can just imagine folks two hundred years from now reading about our current views on "the final frontier of gender equality" etc. They will read it with pity and disgust. And I can't blame them.

More news stories

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...