Dr. Leah Ruppanner. Photo: Sarah Anderson Photography.
Dr. Leah Ruppanner. Photo: Sarah Anderson Photography.

– Inconsistencies in couples’ housework reports – notably discounting women’s contributions – are bad for relationships, says Dr. Leah Ruppanner, senior lecturer of Sociology and affiliate at the Stockholm University Demography Unit, SUDA.

Previous studies have shown that housework inequality is associated with lower relationship satisfaction, and that housework inequality contributes to divorce. Accordingly, qualitative research has shown that recognizing your partner’s contributions to the housework creates a buffer against unhappiness in the relationship.

– But, we have never had insight into how inconsistencies in couples’ housework reports – notably discounting ones’ spouses’ housework contributions – contributes to relationship outcomes, says Dr. Leah Ruppanner.

So, in this study, the authors look at how differences in each partner’s reports of housework sharing structure their relationship satisfaction, plans of breaking up and, using Swedish register data, odds of breaking up.

They find that in couples where men discount women’s housework contributions – or he reports she does less than she reports – both partners are less satisfied with the relationship. Women in these discounting unions are more likely to consider breaking-up and the relationships are more likely to dissolve. On the other hand they find that if men credit women’s housework – or he reports she does more but she says they share equally – women report better relationship satisfaction.

Although these initial insights are quite provocative, further research is needed to test whether the results are country-specific. It may be that unequal sharing of housework is a reason to divorce only in Sweden - since it is a highly egalitarian country.

On the other hand, the associations between discounting women’s housework and relationship quality, might even be more substantial in a highly individualistic country like the United States, with limited access to public childcare or parental insurance.

– Basically, our results show that men discounting women’s housework contributions has consequences beyond just how couples feel about their own housework divisions. It actually jeopardizes the entire relationship, says Dr. Leah Ruppanner.

More about the research

You can read the full research article “Does Unequal Housework Lead to Divorce? Evidence from Sweden”  by Leah Ruppanner, Maria Brandén and Jani Turunen, here.