The Power of Chore Distribution: Strengthening Marital and Parent-Child RelationshipsJan 24, 2024
Usually, I focus on the parent-child dynamic in these posts, but there’s no denying that the parent-parent dynamic is essential to a harmonious family environment and resulting parent-child dynamics. As we embark upon the new year, it's an opportune time for couples to reflect on their family dynamics and make positive changes. One area that often warrants attention is the distribution of household chores, and there are some particularly interesting psychology research findings that apply to the topic of spousal chore distribution. In this blog, we will explore the importance of addressing chore distribution between spouses, the benefits of holding a family meeting to discuss this topic, and the significance of involving children in the conversation. By utilizing effective communication strategies and considering relevant psychology findings, we can set our families up for success in the new year.
Of note, this topic is relevant to both stay-at-home and working moms and dads. It can enhance family relationships and promote a healthier work-life balance, whether you’re talking about balancing the work you do caring for your children or the work you do outside of the home. We’re going to break this topic down into three sections today: Distribution of Chores Between Spouses, Using Family Meetings to Improve the Situation, and the Positive Effects You Can Expect to See.
The Distribution of Household Chores between Husbands and Wives
Let’s touch briefly on a review of psychology research before we dive into actionable tips to resolve potentially damaging issues in your family related to your perception of chores equity between you and your partner. Most of this research has been conducted on male-female married couples, so I will refer to spouses herein, though the tips I recommend below are not limited to this population and can be adapted to same-sex and non-married couples. There’s a whole women’s liberation element to this discussion, with studies showing that women perform a far greater proportion of household tasks compared to their husbands, often approaching a 2:1 ratio. These findings are consistent across a wide range of cultural contexts. That goes for households where the wife earns more money than her husband and even in households where the husband is not employed. That’s a much larger discussion.
Today, I want to focus on spouses’ perceptions of the division of household labor and an interesting psychological phenomenon on that topic. If you ask a couple what percentage of the household chores they each do, you will receive answers like 50% and 65% from one couple, or 70% and 60% from another couple. What’s strange about these numbers? They add up to more than 100% per couple. Studies have shown that both husbands and wives overreport their contributions to housework while underestimating their partner’s contributions (Press & Townsley, 1998), but if you take the 2:1 ratio mentioned above into consideration, it’s clear that men are even more prone to overestimating.
Even though men are doing more household chores than ever these days, their perceptions of how much they’re helping out around the house still tend to be way off. Why does this matter? These perceptions of inequality in household chores can have a significant impact on relationship satisfaction and stability. Notably, mismatch in couples’ housework reports is related to the risk of divorce. In relationships where the husband reports equal sharing of household chores, yet the wife reports doing more, we see the lowest relationship quality and the highest rates of separation (Ruppanner et al., 2017).
In contrast, the best relationship satisfaction comes from relationships where men credit their wives by acknowledging their extra contribution to the housework (Ruppanner et al., 2017). This means that though husbands taking on more chores can be helpful, simply acknowledging their wives more for taking on the extra chores can also be very beneficial to the relationship. Of course, there are a number of other factors contributing to divorce, but this one is remarkable and relatively easy to remedy.
An important thing to note when talking about chores distribution amongst couples is that a 50/50 split is not always the ideal goal. It’s the perception of fairness that is a strong predictor of relationship quality - not perceived equity (Gillespie et al., 2019). For example, let’s say I do the laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping while my husband takes out the trash and unclogs any stopped-up drains. That’s not an equal distribution of tasks, but if I really don’t like taking out the trash and managing plumbing issues, that may seem like a fair arrangement to me.
Take a moment to think about the chore distribution in your relationship. I encourage you to pause reading, get out a piece of paper, and write down a list of the chores that you do and a list of the chores that your spouse does. Then, go back through that list and star those that seem like the most taxing chores - the ones that you really dislike doing. Lastly, take a moment to think about your schedule and your partner’s schedule at this point in time and consider how much time each of you has to allocate to household chores during the week. Now, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the distribution of chores look equal (i.e., 50% and 50% per spouse)?
- If not, does it look fair, taking into consideration which chores are starred (i.e., one spouse may have fewer chores, but more of them are starred as less desirable chores)?
- Does it look fair considering your schedule and your partner’s schedule, and what are feasible contributions for you both to make?
- If the chores distribution doesn’t look fair, is that a temporary situation (e.g., while your partner is juggling a really busy period at work)?
- If it doesn’t look fair and is not temporary, are you okay with that?
The Power of Holding a Family Meeting
Having completed the exercise above, you should now have a better idea of whether the chores distribution is fair in your household and whether you’re comfortable with the current setup. It may be that you do far more of the household chores, and you’re okay with that because you know your partner is working hard and doesn’t have the time in their schedule to contribute more. Or it may be that you feel overburdened and could use some more support - maybe even just offloading one chore from your weekly To-do list. One effective way to address the distribution of household chores is by holding a family meeting. This meeting provides an opportunity for all family members to come together, discuss their roles and responsibilities, and make any necessary changes.
During the family meeting, it is important to create a safe and open space for discussion. Each person should feel like their voice is heard and respected. Set a clear and focused agenda on the topic of chore distribution. By establishing ground rules, such as active listening and respectful communication, you can foster an environment that encourages open dialogue and problem-solving.
When discussing chore distribution, it is essential to involve children in the conversation. During the family meeting, give children the chance to express their preferences and interests. Assign age-appropriate tasks that align with their abilities and encourage them to take ownership of their responsibilities. This not only teaches them valuable life skills but also empowers them to take responsibility for their contributions to the family unit. By including them in the decision-making process, they feel heard and valued, fostering a sense of ownership and commitment to their assigned tasks.
To help families host a positive and productive family meeting, I created a free downloadable resource called "How to Hold a Successful Family Meeting." This comprehensive guide provides ground rules, scheduling tips, and communication strategies to ensure a successful discussion. Be sure to download your free copy today.
The Positive Effects of Family Chore Redistribution
- Strengthening the Marital Relationship: Addressing chore distribution allows couples to have open and honest conversations about their expectations, needs, and limitations. By working together to create a fair division of labor, couples can reduce feelings of resentment and foster a stronger sense of teamwork and support. This collaborative effort strengthens the marital bond and promotes a more successful partnership.
- Promoting Work-Life Balance: For working parents, finding a balance between professional and family responsibilities can be challenging. By redistributing chores and involving all family members, parents can alleviate some of the burdens and create more time for quality family interactions. This balance not only benefits the parents but also provides children with the attention and support they need for healthy development.
- Fostering the Parent-Child Relationship: Involving children in the chore allocation process empowers them to contribute to the family's well-being. It teaches them valuable life skills, such as responsibility, accountability, and time management. By assigning age-appropriate tasks and providing positive reinforcement, parents can nurture a sense of pride and accomplishment in their children. This shared responsibility also fosters a deeper connection between parents and children as they work together toward a common goal.
In many households, the distribution of household chores often falls along traditional gender lines. However, it is essential to recognize that this division may not always be equitable or fair and that perception of inequity plays an important role in relationship satisfaction and staying power. Research has shown that women tend to take on a larger share of household responsibilities, even when they are also working outside the home. This imbalance can lead to feelings of resentment, stress, and strain on the marital relationship. By being aware of interesting psychology findings, such as the misperception in household chore allocation, we can navigate the challenges of complex family relationships more successfully and create a thriving family environment in the year ahead.
It is crucial for couples to have open and honest conversations about their expectations, needs, and limitations when it comes to household chores. Remember to involve everyone in the process, including children. By openly discussing and adjusting chore allocation, couples can strengthen their marital relationships, foster a sense of responsibility in their children, and promote a healthy work-life balance. Family meetings focussed on effective and fair chore distribution strengthen family relationships. Let this new year be a fresh start for your household, where everyone feels heard, valued, and actively participates in maintaining balanced family life. Schedule your next family meeting to discuss chores allocation this week!
Holding family meetings to discuss chores allocation is part of the Check Yourself category of my 5 C’s parenting framework (click here to learn more about the 5 C’s). To view more posts in this category, use the category search menu on the right of your screen. Thanks for joining me to fill your parenting toolbox with psychology-based tools to feel more confident and capable in your parenting. Keep up the good work on your amazing parenting journey!
P.S. Be sure to get your next Family Meeting off on the right foot with some essential quick tips in my free download.
Gillespie, B.J., Peterson, G., & Lever, J. Gendered perceptions of fairness in housework and shared expenses: Implications for relationship satisfaction and sex frequency. PLoS One. 2019 Mar 20;14(3):e0214204. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0214204. PMID: 30893363; PMCID: PMC6426245
Press, J. E., & Townsley, E. (1998). Wives’ and husbands’ housework reporting: Gender, Class, and Social Desirability. Gender & Society, 12(2), 188-218. https://doi.org/10.1177/089124398012002005
Ruppanner L., Brandén M., & Turunen J. (2017). Does unequal housework lead to divorce? Evidence from Sweden. Sociology. 10.1177/0038038516674664