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Women are earning more -- and doing more housework too

On the Hot Button blog yesterday, The Globe and Mail's Erin Anderssen pointed out a major downside to a new study that shows women are increasingly becoming their families' principal breadwinners: many of these women are single mothers struggling to make ends meet.

But the news is not exactly rosy for married women who earn heftier pay cheques either. According to The New York Times, economists from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and the National University of Singapore have found that couples in which the wife earns more than her husband report being less happy with their marriage and have higher rates of divorce. These couples, in fact, tend to revert to stereotypical domestic roles, in which women also take on the bulk of the housework and childcare, presumably to prop up their husbands' self-esteem.

"Our analysis…suggests that gender identity considerations may lead a woman who seems threatening to her husband because she earns more than he does to engage in a larger share of home production activities, particularly household chores," the Times quoted the economists' paper as saying.

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So not only are women bringing home bigger pay cheques, they are also the ones doing the dishes and cleaning up after the kids after coming home from work. An earlier U.S. study had arrived at the same conclusion: working women also do more around the house to help their lower-earning husbands retain their "masculine privilege."

Sure, men are increasingly taking on a greater share of the domestic work. But it's not entirely an even split of the duties. As Dianne Nice previously reported in The Globe and Mail, Statistics Canada data show that young women still do slightly more housework in households in which both spouses are employed. Among those aged 20 to 29, women reported doing 1.4 hours of housework a day, compared with 1 hour for men.

It's easy to assume the solution would be to have men pick up the slack at home. Yet splitting up the household work 50/50 is no recipe for marital bliss either. According to one Norwegian study, divorce rates are up to 50 per cent higher among couples who share the housework equally, compared with couples in which the women do most of the chores.

This weekend, the Globe and Mail launches a week-long series exploring the role that gender plays is the way household tasks are divided inside modern Canadian households, and how the resulting stress is affecting family life.

Tell us how it works in your home. Does your income factor into how you divvy up the housework?

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