Who cleans the toilets in your household? Does a person always mow the lawn? Who is in charge of the accounts?
In couple households, a division of labor makes sense. But that doesn’t make it any easier: Conversations about money can be strained, and household chores — or lack thereof — tend to cause some of the worst relationship arguments.
Too often, tasks are divided according to gender norms, which means that among opposite-sex couples, women do more unpaid work than men. If this couple has children, the divide becomes sharper, even if both parties are also trying to pursue a career.
But same-sex dual-career couples tend to divide life’s tasks more evenly, according to McKinsey researchers. Moreover, the strategies employed by same-sex couples could apply more broadly to all couples trying to balance career and family life.
How to Divide Household Chores in a Relationship
In heterosexual dual-career couples, women are twice as likely as men to see their partner’s career take precedence over their own, McKinsey wrote in his reportpublished monday. Women also do more household chores. They may work an equal number of paid hours as their male spouse, but also often take on a second unpaid daily work shift at home. The pandemic has exacerbated this, with mothers also taking more responsibility for childcare, childcare arrangements and homeschooling during Working hours.
Women and men also perceive the amount of work they do very differently: 70% of men in relationships say they do as much housework as their female partners, but only 42% of women agree, found McKinsey.
McKinsey reviewed data from more than 30,000 people in opposite-sex couples and more than 900 people in same-sex couples, with and without children, selected from 65,000 employees surveyed for its 2021 Women in the Workplace Survey. They also interviewed 25 couples to better understand the quantitative results. They found that while 53% of women in opposite-sex couples said they did “all or most” of the household chores, only about a quarter of women in same-sex couples said they did. Same-sex partners were significantly less likely to feel that a person should “downgrade” their career after having children.
Household chores and career goals
Same-sex couples seem to value both careers, beyond the money they brought in, the researchers noted. “Same-sex couples’ approach to household responsibilities often reflects a deep and abiding assumption that each partner’s career is equally important, regardless of breadwinner,” the authors wrote.
The reason most often given by women for their careers being put on hold after having children is that their male partner is already making more money, so his career must be prioritized, thus motherhood exacerbates existing structural inequalities. But McKinsey’s research suggests the rationale isn’t just economic, it’s also based on societal expectations.
Opposite-sex couples could learn from the way same-sex couples — who arguably have fewer stereotypical roles to fall back into — have divided up the chores.
One suggestion in the report is to divide tasks by inclination. Few people enjoy scrubbing sinks, but if you prefer that to looking for home insurance when your partner doesn’t care about that kind of work, use it to figure out who does what.
Another suggestion is to outsource certain tasks, if the couple’s finances allow it. In same-sex relationships, a woman may be less expected to take care of the children or a man to defrost the driveway, so both partners are more likely to get outside help to work they don’t want to do themselves, the authors mentioned.
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