The equal distribution of housework is – as we all know – not equal.

A study by Susanne Fahlen sheds light on the situation in Europe: She compares different income types of couples in 20 European countries with data from the European Social Survey in 2010/2011 and distinguishes between dual career and dual-earner couples, male or female career or earner couples, and single male or female career or earner couples. The study does not include childcare or leisure activities. According to the International Standard Classification of Occupations, to earn money from a career means to be in a managerial or professional position. Housework means cooking, washing, cleaning, caring for clothes, shopping and maintenance of property.

The results of the study show that the average hours required for housework where either both partners are in a career position or only one amount to 23, whilst with other types of couples named above these, hours amount to 30. In all types, men contribute on average eight hours to housework. Two extremes were found: if the man is the single earner (not in career position) the woman spends 30 hours on housework, with the man contributing only seven hours, while in the female single-earner couples the closest equal distribution went along the lines of roughly 17 hours of housework being carried out by the woman and 13 hours by the man.

The results show as follows:

Men’s contribution to housework is around a third of all the required hours. Couples share housework more equally when both are earning and when at least one earner is in a career position. Higher income reduces the gender gap in carrying out housework.

More equality in the distribution of housework is due to a reduction of hours dedicated to housework by women rather than it is to an increase of hours dedicated to housework by men.

In countries with more elaborate policy on combining family and work the distribution is more equal than in countries without such policy.

These results answer the question of ”What is the situation today in terms of gender equality and sharing of housework?“. They do not answer the questions such as ”How come?; “What lead to the concrete distribution?”; “How did the couple negotiate?”; or “Was there any negotiation at all, or did the division simply ‘happen’?”.

I encourage the reader to do an exercise: For one week look at the distribution of housework in your partnership and reflect on how it came to it. What did you as a couple do to get to this point? Did it just happen? Were there negotiations? What needs to happen if it should change?


Source: Working paper 48(2015) of FamiliesAndSocieties: Gender equality within dual-earner and dual-career couples across different policy regimes and norm systems in Europe. By Susanne Fahlén.

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