Do You Really Have to Split the Housework in Half?

Studies correlate traditional gender roles with greater domestic harmony.

“To have and to hold from this day forth … Till death do us part.”

What they forget to mention if you want to live happily ever after is how to divide up the household chores. It is very easy (and also not readily advisable these days) to take a perceived sexist view and say that men like to fulfill their “hunter gatherer” role and women run the house the best. Although this is a very old fashioned view there are certainly studies that support the claim that the divorce rate would be lower if we went back to the traditional way of co-habitating.

Modern Couples

The modern married couple have an entirely different perception of marriage to our predecessors and the view now is that couples should share responsibilities and chores equally. Women now have a much higher level of education than before and are much more likely to command a reasonably well paid job and have a lower level of dependency on their spouse. The problem with that very modern arrangement of equality is that there is a danger that the relationship could resemble more of a business partnership that an intimate and loving relationship and as a result, there is a greater tendency to see a conflict of interest as you juggle schedules and divide up chores rather than a more harmonious arrangement where roles are clearly defined.

Equality in the home

Whilst equality in the home is always a desirable objective, there are many studies that have demonstrated that sharing equal responsibility is less likely to create contentment and the statistics show that there is actually a higher divorce rate where couples try to pursue equality rather than having more old-fashioned defined roles within the marriage.  The argument put forward to support the traditional husband and wife arrangement is that when there is clarity regarding the roles that each person is expected to fulfill in the relationship, there is less likely to be conflict and arguments. If a modern couple share the duties equally there is more opportunity for confrontation if one partner thinks that the other is not pulling their weight and contributing equally. If the ironing has not been done or the lawn not been mowed, it is very easy to identify the culprit in the traditional marriage scenario.

Dealing with the problem

At the end of the day all we are talking about are statistics and views that may or may not conform to your own ideas of how a marriage works best. The only people that can make a relationship work in the way that suits them best and leads to a long and happy marriage, are the couple themselves. If the wife wants to stay at home and do the housework and the husband go to work to pay the bills, no problem. As long as the rules of engagement are clearly worked out while you are very much in love and looking forward to married life, then whatever works for you, even if it does not align with modern views or even traditional views, it will hopefully mean you are less likely to be one of the unfortunate statistics that ended up getting divorced. In the same way that a pre-nuptial agreement is hardly the most romantic gesture ever made between a couple, at least you know where you stand before you get married.


Read more on Work/Life Balance on The Good Life.

Image credits: Rochelle, just rochelle,  Tobyotter /Flickr

About Neil Keifer

Neil Keifer has a penchant for relationship psychology. He enjoys sharing his insights on various relationship and lifestyle blogs. Visit for more relationship advice.


  1. The ONLY quoted study (despite the plural in the title) specifically discusses the fact that the researchers believe that the attempt at equality is NOT the cause of the splits – as other commenters have mentioned correlation doesn’t imply causation.

    My guess? When a man attempts to break traditional gender roles he feels entitled to additional praise for being willing to do stuff he’s not “supposed” to. We’ve all seen the studies that show men overestimate the share of housework they do. (I’m definitely guilty of this myself… I do all the cooking in our family and sometimes feel resentful if my wife doesn’t do the dishes… despite the fact that I never clean the bathroom…)

    The way to make it work I think is not to worry about what’s “fair” or “right”, but for both partners to be honestly focused on serving and supporting each other. Then you don’t have to worry about a 50/50 split or “traditional” roles… Do what works, and check in from time to time to make sure it is really working for the other person! True good faith in each other always wins.

    • “My guess? When a man…”

      Ever consider that men having blame heaped on the constantly, from every direction, and the hit to the self esteem, the sense of identity, etc, plays a part? Ever consider the stress of the wife taking on too much, by not actually relinquishing control over some things can lead to the problem? Ever wonder why men ask for the approval? Ever notice that, even when a man is responsible for a task, it must be done to the woman’s satisfaction? Could that not explain the seeking of praise? Could that not explain women taking on too much? Nobody can have it all all at once. men know this, women have been told otherwise. But when women try and fail, men get blamed for that too, just like you’re doing.

  2. The results may be positively correlated because people who assume traditional gender roles are more likely to stay in a marriage because of sense of duty. Positive correlations only mean that it was statistically significant, but they don’t get the the “why”.

  3. When both parents are working professionals, you need help at home….a babysitter can also relieve the pressures of trying to do it all and also be a confidante and marriage counselor! However, during the recent Sandy storm, I was home alone with 2 kids and constantly cooking and cleaning in a dark and cold house with cold running water! It was not exactly “Little House on the Prairie”, but now I get why so much of the narrative revolved around description of household chores!

  4. Sedeer El-Showk says:

    Why should this relate to traditional gender roles? Even if the traditional bread-winner/bread-maker division makes for a better relationship, there’s no reason those roles have to be assigned according to the traditional gender dynamic. Wouldn’t a working wife and a househusband also enjoy the benefits suggested by the study?

  5. There is no such thing as split housework. You have to factor in the time, amount of effort and strengths of the partners, there will always be one partner doing more than the other.

  6. The lower divorce rate could be totally epiphenomenological– religions and age are also correlates to gender roles, attitudes toward housework, and propensity for divorce that might impacting BOTH the divorce rate and division of household chores simultaneously.

  7. What this piece fails to acknowledge is correlation vs. causation. I think that the “modern couple,” where the woman has achieved education that is likely equal to her spouse, is not inherently unhappy because the woman is no longer dependent on her husband. It probably has more to do with the fact that she is more aware of her value as a human being and can call her husband out on patriarchal shit if he ascribes to antiquated gender roles. Wanting to be equal doesn’t take any love out of the relationship–it can actually add a whole new level of compassion–and does not morph the marriage into a business transaction. Removing yourself from the emotional needs of your spouse (including their desire to be treated as an equal) is what turns it into a business relationship.

  8. Actually this study sounds weird to me, because most of the studies have shown opposite – couples who share the housework, are less likely to get divorced nowadays.

    We can also ask, whether traditional roles really connect with happiness – what if this “traditional” couples don’t split up because they also believe that once you get married, you stay married (no matter are you really happy in a marriage or not)

    As a woman I couldn’t imagine I was happy in relation where I would be cleaning and cooking. What guy even has to do nowadays at home, if he only does traditional menwork? The things don’t have to be fixed so often, but you must clean and cook food every day. The best thing about my man is that he can cook and clean, and I love him because of that.

    • JoAnne Dietrich says:

      Susanna, I agree with you. Women are much happier when they are equal partners in a marriage. I also agree that traditional “men’s work” is less time consuming. Most women who work outside the home are very happy having careers.

      • Traditional men’s work such as yard work is less time consuming but in a place like Northern Australia it’s FAR MORE energy consuming. Cooking, cleaning inside an air conditioned house for 3 hours is nothing compared to mowing a lawn for 1 hour in summer here. I’ve done both and I can tell you that I am dripping with sweat 10 minutes into the mowing and after 1 hour I am exhausted from heat but inside I barely break a sweat n go for hours.

        Comparing housework by hours alone is pointless n stupid, every job has differing levels of comfort, energy usage n time. Even worksite jobs differ, a roofer working on houses with up to 50 degree celcius heat will be working far harder than someone in an office, an hour on that roof will drain more energy than a full day’s work in an office probably.

        The way it went in my parents home was that both mum n dad cleaned, cooked, but dad did the outside work as well whilst mum did more of the childcare. I’d say both put in equal effort, though dad may have had less time the climate n heat, energy output outweighed that time difference not to mention skin cancer risk, sunburn, potential for getting bitten by a snake (if you live in more remote areas), etc. Hell I live in a suburban area n had a taipan slither past 1 meter from me, one of the top 3 most deadly AND aggressive snakes out there. I don’t face the threat of taipans cleaning the house but if I am cleaning the yard I have to be cautious.

  9. JoAnne Dietrich says:

    Strict gender roles stay in the 50’s. The purpose of these roles were used to oppress women. I am happy things have changed.

    • Please, do elaborate on this rather hateful assertion. How were gender roles used to oppress women (and do note this article before you say something you’ll regret

      • It’s interesting since a lot of men died in the 40’s especially, and the 50’s too…

      • How is this hateful? Women were subjected to reproductive roles in society and it did make us unable to join the workforce and be independent. This is not hateful, it is the truth. That’s like saying that people who point out that racism is wrong are being hateful. You comment is unfair 😛

        • It glosses over the oppression men faced too, like I dunno…war, conscription? The lucky lottery that women didn’t get involved with?

        • To suggest that gender roles had a purpose of oppressing women begs the question, who’s purpose? Who designed them in such a way? Of course, those called on it will often use plausible deniability regarding the clear implications regarding the answer. This is often accompanied by the claim “the patriarchy hurts men too”… but if that were actually believed and accepted, then wouldn’t that mean men were oppressed by their gender roles too? And if THAT’s the case, then what is the purpose of oppression via gender roles if everyone is oppressed?

          So ultimately, the statement is ether claiming men oppressed women (a rather hateful assertion) or else men are also oppressed, but not worth bothering to include in the statement.

  10. The June Cleaver model looks more like a business arrangement to me.

  11. I disagree, I think strict gender roles are like a job itself rather than a modern relationship where there is flexibility

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