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‘Bicker index’ ranks how often European couples argue over household chores

It's been dubbed the "bicker index." A new survey of nearly 10,000 Europeans ranks how often they argue over household chores, paid work and money, by country and gender.

The report, published in the journal Demographic Research, looked at married or cohabitating heterosexual couples age 18 to 45 in 22 European countries.

Perhaps surprisingly, Finland took top billing: Couples there quarrelled over the three issues more than pairs in any other country surveyed. Greek couples came off as the most amicable, least likely to fight about chores, money or paid work. Just 36 per cent of Portuguese respondents claimed to disagree over housework, compared to 90 per cent of Finnish couples.

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A portrait of married bliss? Look closer.

Portugal ranked second lowest on the bicker index when it came to squabbling over domestic chores. But a separate scan of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) Better Living Index reveals that women in Portugal spend far more time on unpaid work, and men on paid work. Portuguese women "cook, clean and care" 328 minutes a day. Men do it 96 minutes a day – a four hour difference every day, one of the highest gender disparities in the OECD.

Translation for the bicker index? Portuguese women do far more of the domestic drudgery but they also keep mum about it.

By contrast, Finnish and Norwegian couples ranked highest in the report on feuding. But men from these countries also spend far more time scrubbing the house, cooking and caring for family members, according to the OECD. Men in Norway spend 184 minutes a day cooking, cleaning or caring – just 31 minutes less than women – and considerably more than the OECD average of 141 minutes. A similar portrait in Finland, where men spend 159 minutes per day on chores, women 232. Not equal, but not four hours' difference a day either.

The researchers who looked at sparring European couples acknowledge that disagreements may vary depending "on the level of gender equity within the country, and economic conditions." On the bicker index, Greeks ranked as least likely of the 22 nations to fight. They were also hit hard during the global economic crisis, with women in Greece 20 per cent less likely to be in the labour market than men – just 42 per cent of women have jobs versus 61 per cent of men, according to the OECD.

Conversely, "In households in which both partners were in a paid job, respondents reported increased levels of disagreements about housework," write the authors of the current report on feuding couples.

So arguing about housework: a healthy or toxic societal symptom? Cross-referencing the bicker index with the OECD's numbers suggests that the road to equally divided domestic labour may be paved with squabbles, while in places where women work less in paid employment, the toilet scrubbing gets done more quietly.

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Ultimately, housework was the biggest bone of contention for most couples, more so than money. Still, the researchers found discrepancies between those who live together and those who are married: "Cohabitors have significantly more conflicts about housework but significantly fewer conflicts about paid work than married couples."

Write the researchers: "This study aims to improve our understanding of the meaning of cohabitation by examining disagreements within marital and cohabiting relationships." Some of their other findings:

• Couples who earn more money fight less about housework (hello, cleaning lady?)

• Higher earning couples spar more about paid work likely because of longer working hours, the researchers surmise

• Women were less likely than men to report disagreements with their partner about paid work

• Couples with more education quibble more about chores than those with less schooling

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• People with young children battle more about both housework and paid work than those without kids

• The longer couples are together, the less they freak out about housework

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