Married men who take on more "male" household chores have sex more often than guys who do more "female" tasks, such as cooking and cleaning, according to a new study in the American Sociological Review.
"These couples that are traditional in their division of household labor are having more sex, and they're more satisfied with their sex lives than other couples," says study co-author Julie Brines, a University of Washington sociologist.
That's a big deal because, as the study notes, past research has found that couples with greater sexual frequency are less likely to divorce or break up.
To produce "Egalitarianism, Housework, and Sexual Frequency in Marriage," Brines and co-authors Sabino Kornrich and Katrina Leupp looked at previously collected National Survey of Families and Households data on married men (average age: 46) and married women (average age: 46).
To find out more about the effects of "gender-traditional divisions of housework," Family Goes Strong talked with Brines. Excerpts:
Why should couples pay attention to these findings?
Sex and housework remain very important parts of marriage.
So are husbands more attracted to a wives doing more traditionally "womanly" tasks and vice versa?
It's not the chores per se. It's observing the person behaving in a more masculine or feminine way. That expression of difference between men and women is part of what people find attractive about the other partner in a heterosexual marriage. We're not trying to say sexual desire comes from housework. We're not saying, "Guys, put aside the dish towel and go outside and paint the house." [But] these gender roles are very powerful.
How often were the couples in your study having sex?
When the men did no "core" housework – the traditionally female chores of cooking and cleaning – sexual frequency for those couples was 4.8 times per month. When the men didall the core housework, which is very unorthodox, for those couples, sexual frequency was 3.2 times a month. There you have a difference, if you compare the two extremes, of 1.6 times per month.
Your take-home message is not that men should stop doing chores like cleaning?
That is not our message. We were responding to earlier work that suggested men who did more housework got more sex. We offer a more nuanced interpretation of what's going on.
Are you sayingtraditional gender roles may be alluring?
It could be. Our findings suggest that there's something about what people are doing or not doing around housework that's somehow bound up in what people find sexy about a partner. It's hard to say what it is. In her book, Love Between Equals: How Peer Marriage Really Works, Pepper Schwartz interviews a lot of couples where they share things very evenly, and they have a very intense, close relationship. There are all these benefits she documents. But she says one thing these couples report is that their sex lives aren't as active or as interesting as they might like. She uses the language of a sibling-like tonality to the relationship.
What happens when wives earn more money than their husbands?
The couple finds other arenas of activity in their marriage to enact very traditional patterns of behavior as a way of counteracting. In couples where she earns more than he does, she actually does more housework!
But they often feel they're doing a fair split?
In The Second Shift [published in 1989], by Arlie Hochschild, there's one couple in particular. Both the husband and the wife embrace an account of what they do in the household as a 50-50 split. [Hochschild] observes that what that means is that the husband is responsible for the downstairs in the house, and the wife is responsible for the upstairs. The downstairs is the basement where his tool set is, and the dog's dish, and that's it! Upstairs is the living space.
So what should couples do as a result of your study?
Part of this is just revealing or bringing to the surface something that evidently is in play but people haven't observed until now. Now we're calling attention to it. You want to be aware of it.
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