A new study from the University of Bath has found that mothers who earn more than their husbands still do the lion’s share of the housework. While this news isn’t surprising, it does shed light on the gendered landscape of household responsibilities — and it breaks the narrative that primary earners, who could have more demanding jobs than their partners, take a backseat when it comes to household management. Instead, it seems that moms do more of the work all of the time.
The researchers studied the domestic responsibilities and earnings of over 6,000 heterosexual North American couples, both married and non-married but cohabitating.
The surprising part of the study? Even when mothers are the breadwinners, the burden of household management still falls largely on their shoulders, going against the conventional idea that the partner who earns less carries more of the domestic load. Traditionally, that partner has been the woman, owing to the fact that men tend to be higher earners for a number of reasons, including gender-based pay inequity.
“Of course, we understand why specialized division of labour exists, but there is no reason for this specialization to be gender-specific. Traditional division has been conventionally explained by men earning more and working longer hours and has a certain logical appeal,” study author Dr. Joanna Syrda of the University’s School of Management explained in a press release.
In another twist, Dr. Syrda found that, paradoxically, the more the mother earned, the more housework she shouldered, especially in married couples. “Married couples that fail to replicate the traditional division of income may be perceived – both by themselves and others – to be deviating from the norm. What may be happening is that, when men earn less than women, couples neutralise this by increasing traditionality through housework – in other words, wives do more and husbands do less as they try to offset this ‘abnormal’ situation by leaning into other conventional gender norms,” Syrda said.
That moms tend to carry most of the responsibility related to home and family management isn’t news. There have been a number of studies and surveys that highlight the household responsibility inequity common in heterosexual marriages. But Syrda’s findings, that the gap grows larger as moms earn more, is a new twist on a familiar tale.
It’s also worth noting that in Syrda’s study, childcare tasks did not fall under the purview of the results. In her study, housework was defined as “time spent cooking, cleaning, and doing other work around the house.” Based on conclusions from other studies examining childcare responsibilities, it’s safe to assume moms are generally carrying the onus of those tasks as well.
Syrda’s findings highlight the broad inequities women face, both in and out of the home. That a woman can earn more than her husband is even surprising in light of the well-known and much-researched gender pay gap. As of 2021, women, on average, earned 84% of what their male counterparts earned across industries. And though a few industries are attempting to reconcile that discrepancy, the fact that the inequity continues once moms leave work and walk through their front door, regardless of what they earn, is a stark reminder that equality is a long way off for women and especially for mothers.
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