Study Finds the Gender Gap in Household Work Expands for Women Who Earn More Than Their Husbands

While new mothers frequently take on a greater share of housework than their spouses, this effect is even more pronounced in mothers who earn more than fathers, according to research by Joanna Syrda, an assistant professor in the School of Management at the University of Bath in England.

Rational economic theory suggests parenthood and the resulting income and time pressure should lead to a more efficient sharing of household chores. However, the study of more than 6,000 heterosexual North American married households revealed this is not the case.

The traditional division of household chores has been conventionally explained by men earning more and working longer hours. But Dr. Syrda found that the gender housework gap actually gets bigger for mothers who earned more than their spouses – the more they earned over their partner, the more housework they did. Dr. Syrda said the findings might indicate that traditional gender identity norms – the notion of the ‘male breadwinner’ and its association with masculinity – are so entrenched that couples may try to compensate for a situation where wives earn more than their husbands.

“Married couples that fail to replicate the traditional division of income may be perceived – both by themselves and others – to be deviating from the norm,” Dr. Syrda said. “What may be happening is that, when men earn less than women, couples neutralize this by increasing traditionality through housework – in other words, wives do more and husbands do less as they try to offset this ‘abnormal’ situation by leaning into other conventional gender norms.”

The full study, “Gendered Housework: Spousal Relative Income, Parenthood and Traditional Gender Identity Norms,” was published on the website of the journal Work, Employment and Society. It may be accessed here.

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