Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Gendered Division of Housework and Couples' Sexual Relationships: A Reexamination

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Gendered Division of Housework and Couples' Sexual Relationships: A Reexamination

Article excerpt

Today's adults, especially those born after 1960, came of age during a period of great upheaval in expected family and work roles for men and women. They are the "children of the gender revolution" (Gerson, 2010). As adults, many seek to build families based on egalitarian roles, including an equitable sharing of domestic and financial burdens (Gerson, 2010; Pedulla & Thébaud, 2015). They also desire high levels of intimacy within their partnerships (Cherlin, 2004; Gerson, 2010). Indeed, these cohorts expect the "total package": someone who will be helpmate, best friend, and lover. Transforming conventional gender roles can, however, be challenging. There may be consequences for seeking to overturn normative gender scripts. Egalitarian unions can be difficult to maintain (e.g., Miller & Sassler, 2010; Risman, 1998; P. Schwartz, 1995), especially when there are few established models for couples to follow. Sharing domestic burdens may also lead to less intimacy between partners (Kornrich, Brines, & Leupp, 2013; P. Schwartz, 1995). In a recent article published in The American Sociological Review, Kornrich and colleagues (Kornrich, Brines, & Leupp, 2013) found that sexual frequency was highest in married households with conventionally gendered divisions of labor and declined as men and women increased their shares of nontraditional housework tasks.

Much of what we know about gender, household tasks, and intimate relationships- including the article by Kornrich and colleagues (2013)-is based on analyses of data from the second wave of the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH2; see http://www. ssc.wisc.edu/nsfh/). The first wave of data for the NSFH was gathered in 1987-1988, and the same respondents were followed up in 1992-1994 (Sweet & Bumpass, 1996). Although the revolution in men's and women's roles has changed only a little since the 1990s (e.g., today's women do slightly more paid work and men slightly more housework compared to 20 years ago), men's and women's attitudes about the gendered division of labor have become increasingly egalitarian (Gerson, 2010; Sayer, 2010).

Given shifts in the family behaviors of contemporary couples and adults' aspirations for egalitarian family lives, we might expect changes in the association between the division of domestic labor and couples' sexual relationships. Feelings of fairness and satisfaction with the division of housework are central to couples' relationship satisfaction (Amato, Johnson, Booth, & Rogers, 2003; Frisco & Williams, 2003; Wilkie, Ferree, & Ratcliff, 1998), which is strongly related to sexual intimacy (Call, Sprecher, & Schwartz, 1995; P. Schwartz, 2007; Sprecher & Cate, 2004). In this study we explored how the division of household labor is associated with couples' sexual frequency and satisfaction in the early years of the 21st century compared to couples initially surveyed 20 years earlier. Data are from the second wave of the NSFH and the Marital and Relationship Survey (MARS), a 2006 survey that collected data from a sample of low- to moderate-income couples with a minor child living in the home (Lichter & Carmalt, 2009; Sassler, Addo, & Lichter, 2012). We limited the NSFH2 sample to be comparable with the MARS sample and constructed measures that both replicate those of prior studies and diverge in important ways that we suggest better reflect behavioral outcomes. Our findings provide further evidence that the gender revolution has reshaped important aspects of family life (Cotter, Hermsen, & Vanneman, 2011; C. R. Schwartz & Han, 2014).

Background

The Performance of Gender in Intimate Unions

An extensive body of research has examined how gender is reinforced through interactions with others (Potuchek, 1997; Risman, 2004; West & Zimmerman, 1987). Researchers have examined how couples do gender through union progression, expressions of sexuality and sexual pleasure, and decision making (cf. …

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