Cohabiting Couples Do Not Share Chores
January 24, 2013

When It Comes To Chores, Non-Traditional Couples Fall Into Traditional Gender Roles

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

A new study from Cornell University featured in a recent edition of Qualitative Sociology discovered that working-class couples who live together without marrying take on more traditional roles in regards to housework.

The researchers discovered that cohabiting women complete a disproportionate amount of housework even when the women want to share the housework or when women are the only ones making money.

"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," explained the study´s co-author Sharon Sassler, a professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University. "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."

The researchers found that women kept accountability for the performance of chores, tending to supervise the chores done by the males even when the work itself was more or less equally shared.

Even though women took on more responsibilities when it came to household chores, not all gender roles went unquestioned. For example, many of the women in these relationships wanted more equal partnerships, while the men also generally liked to have a partner who worked and earned an income. The researchers even found that one-third of the couples were actively working to share the burden of making income.

However, none of the couples had equally shared household and financial responsibilities, with men seeming to be fine with the fact that their spouses brought in income and did not challenge the males´ dominant power position.

"The connection between masculinity and privileges is maintained for many of these men. Almost none of the women who paid the majority of the household bills were awarded the privileges that male providers have traditionally received," continued Sassler, pointing out that one of these privileges was control of household finances.

In order to investigate this issue, the researchers spoke with 30 working-class cohabiting couples. The couples, who were all between the ages of 19 and 35, were categorized in three different groups. One group was dubbed “conventional,” where each of the partners took on a traditional gender role in the relationship. Another group was called “contesting,” where one partner, usually the female, attempted to have a more balanced but unsuccessful arrangement in the relationship. The last group was considered “counterconvention,” where the female partner was the main breadwinner but also had to complete the bulk of household chores.

The scientists believe that the outcomes of the study show how difficult it is to work through traditional gender roles. For couples that live together, it can be a challenge to break away from the conventional roles associated with “male breadwinner” with “female homemaker.” The authors propose that cohabitation even apart from traditional marriage allows for the re-creation of unequal gender roles.

"What's the final frontier of gender equality?” questioned Sassler in the statement. “Who cleans up."