Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Stress as a Driver of the Allocation of Housework

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Stress as a Driver of the Allocation of Housework

Article excerpt

This study examines the allocation of housework dynamically. Over 10 weeks, a small sample of young married couples used daily logs to report housework time in 6 tasks and the levels of stress they experienced at home and in other role settings. Stress was hypothesized to drive time allocations by spilling over from one setting to another or by crossing over from one spouse to the other. Results supported the hypothesis. For both spouses, less housework followed both high stress from outside the home and low, home-based stress. Gender differences were seen with the crossover of stress. In response to their partner's home-based stress, husbands did more housework, but wives did less. When their partner's stress originated outside the home, men's contributions did not change, but women contributed more. Housework time is not the product of a static contract but a dynamic decision-making process sensitive to the social environment.

For over 30 years, researchers have been collecting and interpreting data on the allocation of housework as if these allocations were based on a static contract. Typical theoretical models have emphasized role relationships (e.g., Blood & Wolfe, 1960; Perry-Jenkins & Crouter, 1990; Shelton, 1990), resource discrepancies between marital partners (e.g., Ross, 1987; Spitze, 1986), gender (Ahrentzen, Levine, & Michelson, 1989; Antill & Cotton, 1988; Douthitt, 1989), or other relatively stable attributes of a couple or its members. The models apparently have assumed a division of housework based on an agreement, spoken or unspoken, that changed little with time. Accepting this theoretical assumption had critical implications for the measurement strategies employed when attempting to predict or explain the allocation of housework. Measurement techniques have relied, for the most part, on rather gross estimates of responsibility or time contributions to housework. Because measures have been broad and imprecise, their use has contributed to the tendency to consider housework in static terms, while also preventing the employment of analysis strategies capable of treating the allocation of housework dynamically.

Current and classic research show three dominant methods, each too gross to detect dynamic allocations. One asks about the relative level of responsibility for the performance of housework in a couple (e.g., Blood & Wolfe, 1960). This approach focuses on whether responsibilities for tasks or their performance are divided equally or require more of one partner than the other. A second strategy assesses time investments in housework within a particular time period (e.g., Rexroat & Shehan, 1987). The time frame evaluated is often the typical week (Antill & Cotton, 1988; Coverman, 1985; Pleck, 1985; Spitze, 1986; Spitze & Ward, 1995). Sometimes housework is defined broadly; other times it is defined in terms of specific tasks. This second approach adds precision beyond the first because, through its use, researchers can report on relative performance (or responsibility) as well as who does how much of what. Studies sometimes examine time estimates from both partners (e.g., Coltrane & Ishii-Kuntz, 1992), but some use the reports of only one spouse, typically wives (e.g., Blair & Johnson, 1992).

The third common methodology uses time diaries. Diaries tend to be used less to study the allocation of housework than the more broadly conceived activities of daily life (e.g., Juster Stafford, 1985; but Berk, 1985, is an exception). Nevertheless, the precision of time diary data for the measurement of housework is greater than the gross estimates of housework completed in a typical week. Yet, most time diary studies collect data for only 1 weekday and I weekend day, and these data are used to construct a synthetic week. Although the data are more detailed and closer to a true representation of the actual occurrences of the day on which they were collected, they are still too gross to show a dynamic process if one exists. …

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