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Couples With Traditional Division of Chores Have Better Love Lives

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Is it really possible that division of chores along traditional gender role lines results in more sex at home? The answer, at least according to this study, is yes.

Married men and women who divide household chores in traditional ways report having more action in the bedroom than couples who share so-called men's and women's work, according to a new study co-authored by sociologists at the University of Washington.

Other studies have found that husbands got more sex if they did more housework, implying that sex was in exchange for housework. But those studies did not factor in what types of chores the husbands were doing.

The new study, published in the February issue of the journal American Sociological Review, shows that sex isn't a bargaining chip. Instead, sex is linked to what types of chores each spouse completes.

Traditional gender roles = more sex?

Couples who follow traditional gender roles around the house – wives doing the cooking, cleaning and shopping; men doing yard work, paying bills and auto maintenance – reported greater sexual frequency.

"The results show that gender still organizes quite a bit of everyday life in marriage," said co-author Julie Brines, a UW associate professor of sociology. "In particular, it seems that the gender identities husbands and wives express through the chores they do also help structure sexual behavior."

Husbands shouldn't take these findings as justification for not cooking, cleaning, shopping or performing other traditionally female household tasks, warned lead author Sabino Kornrich, a former UW graduate student who is now a researcher at the Juan March Institute in Madrid. "Men who refuse to help around the house could increase conflict in their marriage and lower their wives' marital satisfaction."

RI therapist Archie Roberts

Archie Roberts, a psychotherapist who works extensively with couples and is based in Providence, said that the study is interesting in part because the results speak to the formidable power that gender roles have in shaping behavior--consciously and, often, unconsciously. "That's always worth keeping in mind," Roberts said.

At the same time, he added, it's important to consider a few things:

"'Traditional gender roles' are in no way universal," he said, "but the authors seem to throw the term around as though traditional gender roles are understood across cultures. I doubt they're that naive, but the reporting of the study makes no mention of it."

Roberts pointed out that the study's results were obtained in a society that takes its definition of traditional gender roles "from overwhelmingly heteronormative, white, middle class couples," he said. "It makes sense that with those as the norms, people doing domestic work according to those 'traditional' gender roles would feel supported by the popular approval of the couples represented all around them in the media, advertising, etc."

No matter how "traditional" roles are defined in a given society, Roberts said, "feeling oneself to be 'part of the tribe' usually leads to an increased sense of vitality, acceptance, connection, and capacity." And that leads to more sex.

The survey

The findings come from a national survey of about 4,500 heterosexual married U.S. couples participating in the National Survey of Families and Households. The data were collected from 1992 to 1994, the most recent large-scale survey available that measured sexual frequency in married couples. Brines says that it is unlikely that the division of housework – which did not include child care in this study – and sex have changed much since then.

The researchers found that husbands, average age 46, and wives, average age 44, spent a combined 34 hours a week on traditionally female chores. Couples spent an additional 17 hours a week on chores usually thought of as men's work.

Husbands performed about one-fifth of traditionally female tasks and a little more than half of the male-type work. This suggests that wives help out with men's chores more often than husbands help with female tasks.

Men and women reported having sex about five times, on average, in the month prior to the survey. But marriages in which the wife does all the traditionally female tasks reported having had sex about 1.6 times more per month than those where the husband does all the traditionally female chores.

A surprisingly robust connection

Brines, an expert in family and household dynamics, said that it wasn't surprising that sexual activity was tied to the division of household chores. "If anything surprised us, it was how robust the connection was between a traditional division of housework and sexual frequency."

"Marriage today isn't what it was 30 or 40 years ago, but there are some things that remain important," Brines said. "Sex and housework are still key aspects of sharing a life, and both are related to marital satisfaction and how spouses express their gender identity." 


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