The rather shaky news in recent days of a survey that found that couples who share household responsibilities are more likely to divorce has been making headlines since the Drudge Report tweeted about it Friday.
Though it’s unclear where the study was published, (there’s an online pdf that’s in Norwegian, but little trace of it otherwise), some commentators have seized on it to promote its conclusion that “modern” couples are less happy than traditional ones.
“Equality in the Home” apparently followed couples in Norway, of all equality-championing places, and found that chore-sharers were about 50 percent more likely to divorce than couples were the women did more chores, according to the Telegraph, which first reported it.
“Modern couples are just that, both in the way they divide up the chores and in their perception of marriage” one of the study authors, Thomas Hansen, told the Telegraph. “In these modern couples, women also have a high level of education and a well-paid job, which makes them less dependent on their spouse financially.”
The Atlantic’s Jen Doll offered the best counter to the study conclusions that I’ve read, complete with links to other recent research that suggests forcefully that household equality strengthens marriages.
She also goes on to talk about how there might be some worth, however, in the conversation this “news” has triggered.
“That it’s a study at all means that people are interested in the basic themes it hopes to address — if not the knowledge, necessarily, that it purports to deliver. This study may have merit (not sure what, exactly, yet) and it may not, but one thing is clear: People are deeply curious about determining the right way or ways in which we should coexist together,” Doll concludes.
This is never more true than when a couple welcomes a child into the home. The home burdens quickly overtake even those couples who had been managing so well. Fifty-fifty? That’s no longer close to enough.
It’s a conversation I recently had with Jennifer Folsom, a partner at Momentum Resources, a local placement agency that specializes in flexible and part-time work options and a mother who knows her way around compromises.
I asked her how couples with children best manage what Doll would call co-existence when it comes to the division of labor. Folsom said she lives by a few home rules:
“No gender roles on household tasks. Because my husband is a bike commuter and works longer business hours out of the house, I’m the one home during daylight hours. I learned to cut the grass ...
“Re-evaluate. Just because you’ve always done it one way doesn’t mean it will always work. As you transition from infancy to preschool to school aged, your kids needs and schedules change rapidly and so should the division of labor. That is a lot of change in a relatively short five-year or so period. Don’t accuse, don’t freak out, just reasonably approach how all the work is going to get done equitably.
“Hand off tasks wholesale. We ran in to trouble because although my husband appreciated all the work I was doing to run the household, he didn’t actually see it. When he came home, the lunch box fairy had visited, the laundry fairy had put away clothes, etc. Rather than ask ‘Hey, honey, tonight can you pack lunches?’ I handed off the lunch-packing to him wholesale, a huge timesaver for me. But here’s the key: Let him do it his (or her) way. Don’t criticize, the kids won’t starve, just hand it off and move on.”
What’s the division of labor in your house? Is it a source of tension or of unity?