Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Working Hard and Hardly Working: Domestic Labor and Marital Satisfaction among Dual-Earner Couples

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Working Hard and Hardly Working: Domestic Labor and Marital Satisfaction among Dual-Earner Couples

Article excerpt

This article examines the effect of domestic labor, gender ideology, work status, and economic dependency on marital satisfaction using data obtained from self-administered questionnaires for 156 dual-earner couples. Analytic distinctions were drawn among three aspects of domestic labor: household tasks, emotion work, and status enhancement. The effects of each of these elements of the division of domestic labor on marital satisfaction were tested. We also tested the effects of a respondent's satisfaction with the couple's division of domestic labor on marital satisfaction. Finally, we tested the effects of gender ideology, hours spent in paid work each week, and economic dependency on marital satisfaction. For women, satisfaction with the division of household tasks and emotion work and their contributions to household and status-enhancement tasks were the most significant predictors of marital satisfaction. Satisfaction with the division of labor around both emotion work and housework were significant predictors for men's marital satisfaction. Partner's status-enhancement work was also predictive for men. Economic dependency, paid work hours, gender ideology, partner's hours spent on housework, contributions to emotion work, and number of children and preschool-age children had only indirect effects on women's marital sat

isfaction. For men, hours spent on housework, contributions to emotion work, partner's emotion work, hours spent in the paid labor force, and number of preschool children had an indirect effect on marital satisfaction.

Key Words: domestic labor, emotion work gender, marital

satisfaction.

How do a couple's division of domestic labor, hours spent in the paid workforce, relations of economic support, and gender ideologies influence marital satisfaction? We might expect, following Blumstein and Schwartz (1983), that marital satisfaction is highest for couples who have worked out an agreeable division of household labor and arrangements for resolving financial issues in the relationship. This is not to say that marital satisfaction requires couples to share household tasks equally or share fifty-fifty in economic resource contributions; we argue that marital satisfaction hinges on couples developing a mutually agreed upon division of household labor and financial arrangement. Time spent in the workplace, divergent gender ideologies of partners, and different levels of satisfaction with domestic labor and financial arrangements may significantly influence the relationship between domestic labor and marital satisfaction.

Empirical studies have not systematically examined the complex nature of the combined effects of these relationships on marital satisfaction. Given the widespread societal concern about the high divorce rate, it is important to understand factors that influence marital satisfaction. This article develops and tests a model that predicts that the division of domestic labor, satisfaction with that division of labor, average hours spent at work per week, economic dependency, and gender ideologies influence marital satisfaction. The analysis uses data from a random sample of dual-earner couples in a Western state to assess the effects of these variables on marital satisfaction.

THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES AND EMPIRIcAL

EVIDENCE

Domestic Labor

Sociological research on domestic labor and marital satisfaction has tended to define domestic labor as synonymous with household tasks. According to this perspective, household labor is typically operationalized as how many hours per week a respondent devotes to housework (Shelton & John, 1996). We argue, following the theoretical work of Coverman (1989), that domestic labor includes much more than housework. Domestic labor encompasses, as well, emotion work-taking care of the emotional life of the relationship-- and status enhancement-activities by one partner that enhance the employment status of the other partner (e. …

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