How same-sex couples divide up household chores, and what it reveals about parenting

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©2018 THE NEW YORK TIMES

When straight couples divide up the chores of daily life — who cooks dinner and who mows the lawn, who schedules the children's activities and who takes out the trash — the duties are often determined by gender.

Jared Hunt and Dorian Kendal at home with their son, Jackson, 2, and dog, Parker in San Francisco, May 3, 2018. Though same-sex couples tend divide up chores more equally, new research shows that when they have have children, they often begin to divide things as heterosexual couples do — one partner often has higher earnings, and one a greater share of household chores and child care. (Jason Henry/The New York Times)

Jared Hunt and Dorian Kendal at home with their son, Jackson, 2, and dog, Parker in San Francisco, May 3, 2018.

Source: ©2018 THE NEW YORK TIMES

Same-sex couples, research has consistently found, divide up chores more equally.

But recent research has uncovered a twist. When gay and lesbian couples have children, they often begin to divide things as heterosexual couples do, according to new data for larger, more representative samples of the gay population. Though the couples are still more equitable, one partner often has higher earnings, and one a greater share of household chores and child care. It shows these roles are not just about gender: Work and much of society are still built for single-earner families.

"Once you have children, it starts to almost pressure the couple into this kind of division of labor, and we're seeing this now even in same-sex couples," said Robert-Jay Green, professor emeritus at the California School of Professional Psychology in San Francisco. "Circumstances conspire on every level to get you to fall back in this traditional role."

Such circumstances include employers who expect round-the-clock availability, and the absence of paid parental leave and public preschool. It's also smaller things, like pediatricians, teachers or grandparents who assume that one parent is the primary one.

"For, me, the choice to stay home seems easier than us both working and both stressing about who’s going to do what," said Sarah Pruis, who is raising five children with her wife, who works full time, in Cheyenne, Wyoming. "That just seems impossible."

Gary Becker, the Nobel-winning economist, proposed a theory that marriage was about efficiency: Husbands specialized in earning and wives in homemaking and child rearing. But in recent decades, as women have gained reproductive rights and a foothold in the labor force, marriage has become more about companionship.

Yet women married to men — even when they work and earn as much as or more than their husbands — still do more domestic work, and social scientists have found that the duties are gendered. Feminine chores are mainly indoor and done frequently: cooking, cleaning, laundry and child care. Masculine chores are mostly outdoor and less frequent: taking out the trash, mowing the lawn or washing the car.

Dozens of studies of gay and lesbian couples have found that they divide unpaid labor in a more egalitarian way. They don't have traditional gender roles to fall back on, and they tend to be more committed to equality.

They don't automatically have different earning potential because they don't face the gender pay gap, and they're both likely to work. Before same-sex marriage was legalized, it was financially riskier for one partner to stop working because that person would have few rights to the couple’s joint property in the case of a breakup or death.

But in recent years, more government data has given researchers a more detailed look at how same-sex couples divide their time.

Dorian Kendal and Jared Hunt, who live in San Francisco and have been married four years, said they had divided household chores based on their personal preferences.

"I hate to cook, so Dorian always does the cooking," said Hunt, 38.

"Jared should not ever cook," confirmed Kendal, 43. "And I hate laundry — laundry is the worst thing, and Jared gets mad at me when I do my own laundry. This is how I knew I was in love, when I found someone who got mad at me for doing something I hated most."

But when they adopted a baby, they decided Hunt would stop working and stay home for a year. His career was in transition, from ballet to interior design, and Kendal, a tech executive, earned significantly more.

"It's not a masculine or a feminine thing; it is just what we do to function as a couple and have our family work," Hunt said.

One study comparing two large surveys of couples at two points in time found heterosexual couples reported increased equality in the division of chores in 2000 compared with 1975, but same-sex couples reported less.

Green, one of the authors of the study, said the change was probably because more same-sex couples in 2000 had married and become parents.

- By Claire Cain Miller

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