Justice and happiness not at odds in the home, phew

Married couples who share home responsibilities and share breadwinning responsibilities are happier, Canadian researchers found. Researchers at the University of Western Ontario said couples who “share roles,” where each partner’s unpaid work is within 40 percent to 60 percent of the total unpaid work, report higher average measures of happiness and life satisfaction than those in other family models. The researchers suggest the shared roles model is advantageous to society in terms of gender equity and its ability to maximize labor force participation by all adults. It also leaves women less vulnerable in the case of separation, divorce or death of a spouse. The researchers recommend that the government pursue policies which encourage this division of work in the home. One report on this research is here. The full report, Models of Earning and Caring: Trends, Determinants and Implications, is here.

3 thoughts on “Justice and happiness not at odds in the home, phew

  1. excellent that this is being taken seriously as a topic for social policy research (even if the findings are totally unsurprising)!

  2. Several years ago I read a report of a study (I can’t remember at all where, so won’t try to link) that said that the happiest couples were ones where “bread winning” was roughly equal, where women did about 55-60% of the domestic work, but where the couple thought the domestic work was equally shared. I found this amusing, in some sense not surprising, though a bit shameful for men. (I believe that the study involved observing how the domestic work was divided and giving scores to it in some “objective” way, but am not sure. It might have just been on self-reporting of what people did.) I’ve tried to suggest to my wife that we should make ourselves happier by having her do a bit more around the house while we tell ourselves that I’m actually doing a bit more, but for some reason she’s been opposed to this idea.

  3. People who have those kinds of households are egalitarian in a way that goes against the grain of society. That means that this population differs from others — I’d expect it to include more advanced degrees and higher average incomes than the mean, for example. Isn’t it possible that the reports of greater happiness/satisfaction are a consequence of some such third factor?

    I skimmed the determinants section of the study and found that, indeed, “couples are more likely to be in a shared roles model when women have more resources.” Role-sharing is also made possible by the availability of “structural supports, such as adequate child-care facilities.” These are also likely to be explain some of the difference in reported satisfaction. Egalitarian couples were more likely to be younger and more likely to be childless, both of which seem likely to be associated with higher happiness/satisfaction ratings.

    I don’t doubt that egalitarian models are better for both men and women. But because I think this kind of study is very susceptible to sampling bias, I’d be very hesitant to draw conclusions until I found out more about how the researchers controlled for all of these differences between the populations they compared.

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