The division of housework in the UK is still very gendered, with women doing a larger share, according to research by Cheti Nicoletti and Danilo Cavapozzi, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society's annual conference at the University of Warwick in April 2019.


Their study finds that even when both the woman and the man in a married or cohabiting couple have a paid job, the housework share is higher for women in 63% of cases and for men in only 10% of cases.


One could think that this gendered housework share is explained by gender differences in the level of satisfaction derived from doing housework. Nevertheless, when women and men are asked to report their level of satisfaction with different housework shares, they both prefer an equal share and dislike an unfair distribution of housework.


The larger housework share for women can be explained by gaps between the two partners in wages and in working hours in their jobs. The study confirms that this explains in part why women do more housework. But the researchers also find that women tend to do more housework even when they work the same or more hours in their job than their partner or when they earn more than their partner.


What also matters in explaining the share of housework between partners is the existence of social norms about the role of women in society. The study finds that the way that couples share their housework is significantly influenced by gender norms shared by peers with a similar background.


The researchers measure these gender norms shared by peers by looking at their gender role attitudes, which they quantify by asking people to answer questions of the type: ‘Do you agree that all in all, family life suffers when the woman has a full-time job’; ‘Do you agree that a husband's job is to earn money’; and ‘Do you agree that a wife's job is to look after the home and family?’


The empirical results show that the housework share between partners is affected by the gender role attitudes of their peers. Couples with peers who have a much more liberal and progressive view of the role of women in society tend to have a more equal housework share, whereas women tend to do more housework than men in couples with peers with a more traditional and conservative view.


This suggests that there is a psychological cost in choosing housework arrangements between partners that differ from the gender norms shared by peers.


If it were possible to change the gender role attitudes of all people by about 25% to make society more progressive and liberal, the study predicts that the distribution of housework between partners would become almost symmetric with about 20% of men doing more housework, about 20% of men doing less housework and the remaining 60% of men sharing the housework equally with their partner.


Cheti Nicoletti concludes:


‘Unfortunately, gender role attitudes seem to change very slowly across time so an equal housework share between partners is something that might still take some decades.’


Prof Cheti Nicoletti

Council member (until 2025)