Why Buy the Cow When the Bull Cleans For Me?
Live-in boyfriends help out in the house more than husbands.
The antiquated expression “living in sin” has been largely excluded from general colloquialism, save for a few tongue-in-cheek instances in which the speaker is aiming for irony.
With increasing numbers of celebrities cohabiting, some for many years now, and many with children, like Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, the practice is no longer viewed as a career-wrecking taboo, whether one is an actor or an accountant.
In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau reports a tenfold increase in cohabiting between 1960 and 2000, with a 72 percent increase between 1990 and 2000.
With increased incidence and social tolerance of cohabitation, has there been a change in gender role expectations?
A new study out of Virginia’s George Mason University (GMU) examined that very question, and found that while women have been warned for years not to “give away the milk” so that the man will “buy the cow” domesticity actually has an endearing effect on the unmarried male, but effects change once he takes those vows.
The GMU study, which analyzed the household work division of couples based on union type, compared labor hours of the sexes between unmarried cohabiting couples and married cohabiting couples. The study found that regardless of schedules and earning capacity, unmarried men logging in more household hours of work compared with their married counterparts. Results demonstrated the opposite effect in women, who as “live-in girlfriends” pitched in less than wives.
Overall, however, women still did more work around the house than men, regardless of marital status.
"Marriage as an institution seems to have a traditionalizing effect on couples--even couples who see men and women as equal," said co-researcher Shannon Davis, a sociologist at GMU, in a public statement.
"There's still a gender norm, since women do more housework than men regardless of union type," said study team member Jennifer Gerteisen Marks, in an interview with Live Science.
The international study examined behavior across 28 countries, from 17,636 respondents (8,119 males and 9,517 females) as part of the Family and Changing Gender Roles III Survey.
“Our research suggests that couples across many countries are influenced by similar factors when deciding how to divide the housework," Davis says. "It's the way the society has defined what being married means, the institution itself, that affects behavior."
Is the honeymoon really over once the vows are spoken? One divorced mother of one, Rachel Sauer, found that to be the case when she got married. When she moved in with her husband-to-be, she found that all household needs were taken care of with a housekeeper for which he footed the bill.
"I guess I could say that was how he pitched in, by paying her salary," she explains.
But when they moved out of their Manhattan apartment into a house in a New Jersey suburb, "I did all the housework. There was no more housekeeper, and my husband didn't pitch in at all, even though we both worked full-time," Sauer continues.
Sauer also points out that although living expenses were lower in New Jersey than in Manhattan, and they were living in a bigger space, no one was hired to help keep house because, "Now I was the wife, and it was just expected of me to replace the housekeeper. That was never said out loud, it was the feeling I got and how I was treated," Sauer explains.
Though she and her former husband kept equally demanding work hours, his lucrative salary was higher, making him the official household breadwinner.
The GMU study authors acknowledge that unequal earning power sometimes plays a role in labor division. "Those in the household with greater resources will leverage those resources to bargain their way out of housework," the authors write in the September issue of the Journal of Family Issues.
"It's consistent with prior research, which has shown that the roles of wives and husbands are very powerful," Marks told LiveScience. "In a cohabiting relationship there aren't such strongly prescribed social norms, which trickle down to things like housework."
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