In a study conducted at Brown University, an interesting pattern emerged: both men and women were more likely to experience “psychological distress” if they had more household chores to do and if the distribution was unfair. However, more women are experiencing this psychological distress then men. Do you know why?!
“Men’s lower contributions to household labor” (a nice way to say it, right?!) may explain part of the gender difference in depression, that is, that twice as many women experience depression compared to men.
You can read more about this gender gap in depression at the Mayo Clinic: Depression in Women website, which states that, “hormones (menstruation, pregnancy and menopause), work overload and sexual abuse are among the factors”.
The interesting finding in the Brown University study is this: it does not necessarily matter who does more housework (as is commonly believed), but rather, the feelings of inequity or unfairness in how the housework is divided. This unfairness in the division of household labor (I think the word "labor" is a better descriptor!) can lead to feelings of anxiety, demoralization, depression and worry.
How the numbers break down:
Depression was lowest for women who performed 79.8% or less of housework (and considered themselves “homemakers”). Again, this illustrates that one person can do the vast majority of housework and feel okay about it, as long as they feel the other person is doing their fair share!
In contrast, women who considered themselves full-time employees (or income-earners) and performed 45.8% or less of housework had the minimum level of depression.
And, regardless of occupation, married men reported performing 37% of household labor, compared to married women’s 70%. In fact, married women perform 14 hours more chores each week, compared to their single counterparts. Married men? They performed only 90 minutes more. “Instead of having someone to share the housework with, marriage causes housework to increase significantly for women”, states the author of the study.
Another article found on EmpowHer titled, Having a Husband Causes 7 More Hours on Weekly Housework corroborates this finding as well.
But why is this a factor in depression or psychosocial distress?
Housework can cause distress (and I would like to add resentment and grudges, sorry dear!), in a marriage because it offers less recognition and minimal feelings of accomplishment, compared to paid work. The good news is that the SHARING of housework performed by each spouse, regardless of the actual number of hours each contributed, is crucial in the couple’s psychological well-being. This is wonderful to hear for me, because in our family, we don’t want a chore checklist or a scorecard to tell us who-did-more-of-what each week, which can lead to more frustration, competition and hurt feelings. Keeping it positive, family-friendly and team-oriented is the way to go for us.
Perception is key when it comes to household chores (er, household LABOR!), and communicating with your spouse or significant other can greatly reduce any negative feelings or distress that one partner feels over the large task of running the household. And, please remember: “managing a household” also includes those “invisible” tasks of planning social engagements, scheduling doctor visits and other appointments, grocery shopping, menu planning, etc. My husband would like to remind everyone that it also includes the other “traditional male” jobs including outdoor maintenance, mowing lawn, etc.
From my perspective, though, I may trade “jobs” with him. While I am doing the “traditional female” chores of dishes, dinner preparation, etc, I am also having to entertain and “guide” my toddler, while he is out mowing the lawn BY HIMSELF! Ahh…the luxury of alone time….
What are your thoughts on the division of household labor and depression in women? Is this a struggle in your home as well? If so, how do you cope? If not, we would love to hear your helpful strategies!
[Source: Bird, CE. (1999). Gender, household labor, and psychological distress: the impact of the amount and division of housework. J Health Soc Behav. 1999 Mar;40(1):32-45.]
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