Chore Wars: High-Earning Husbands Do Less Housework
Life + Money

Chore Wars: High-Earning Husbands Do Less Housework


Wondering why your husband doesn’t do more to help with the housework? It might have something to do with the size of his paycheck.

A new study of British families where both spouses work full-time found that high-earning men were less likely than low-income earners to share housework equally with their wives.

The research was based on interviews with one representative apiece from 48 families, all of which included at least one child under 14. That’s not a large sample size, but the interviews did confirm some nearly universal beliefs: Most participants said housework should be shared and admitted it was a source of conflict and frustration.

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The study also found some clear rifts, though. "There's a stark difference in couples' attitudes towards gender equality depending on how much they are earning," said lead researcher Dr. Clare Lyonette from the Warwick Institute for Employment Research, a British social science group. Her study was published this month in the British Sociological Association’s journal Work, Employment and Society.

Lyonette said that the household division of labor is generally more equal today than it has been in the past, but women still bear most of the responsibility for housework no matter how much they earn.

In families where men earned more than women, women handled most of the housework 80 percent of the time. In families where women earned the same or more than men, women still had the most responsibility for housework two-thirds of the time.

These labor divisions were more pronounced among families that identified as “professional/managerial.” Of professional families 62 percent said women had main responsibility for housework. Of couples doing “routine/manual” work, only 25 percent said the woman had more responsibility for those chores.

In short, perhaps unsurprisingly, men do more around the house when women are the primary breadwinners and higher earners are less likely to help out with domestic duties. Higher income families were more likely to hire a cleaner to ameliorate the situation.

"It seems men on lower incomes are happily picking up the dusters, filling the dishwasher and generally starting to do their bit,” Lyonette said. "But there's a different attitude when it comes to higher earners. We found that while men in these households do also recognize the need to help their partners, they remain reluctant to lift a finger and appear to simply throw money at the issue by hiring a cleaner instead.”

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Even when professional men said they shared housework, the study found that “male ‘sharing’ was confined to what was left after both the wife and the cleaner had divided the majority of the housework between them,” Lyonette said. 

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Both genders rationalize the gap in domestic responsibilities in part by referring to what researchers call “the myth of male incompetence.” “This is a belief by some women — and our study shows it's still rife — that men are unable to complete housework to an acceptable standard,” said Lyonette.

Lyonette and her co-researcher Rosemary Crompton believe women’s responsibility for most domestic work restricts their ability to perform equally with men in the workplace.

“If male partners do more, it may follow that employed women’s lives will improve considerably, allowing them to take on additional workplace responsibilities and compete on a more equal footing with men,” they wrote as they introduced their findings.

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