Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Housework: Boyfriends v. Husbands

According to a recent study, "married men report doing less housework than men who are live-in boyfriends." According to the press release, the authors argue "Marriage as an institution seems to have a traditionalizing effect on couples—even couples who see men and women as equal."

I have a couple of questions. First, is there a causal relationship here or is this just selection bias? That is, when people move from living together to being married, do behaviors change so that men now do less housework -- in which case, marriage may have a "traditionalizing" effect? Or is the observed relationship merely the result of differences in the people who choose to get married? If the set of people who live together have different views on gender norms (or different preferences for housework) than the set of people who never live together before marriage, we should expect to observe differences in the allocation of housework when comparing these two groups. These differences, however, have little to do with marriage and everything to do with differences in who chooses to ever live together before marriage.

Second, assume that there is an actual marriage effect (so the same couple changes their allocation of housework when they move from living together to married), isn't there a more precise way of describing the mechanism than "traditionalization" -- what does that even mean? Let's give it a shot:

What changes when a couple moves from living together to married that would allow men to get away with doing less housework? If we view housework as something distasteful and hold everything else constant, the observed relationship suggests that the move to marriage increases the women's enjoyment of the relationship (their surplus) and decreases their bargaining position.

If women don't get some extra benefit out of being married but end up incurring the extra costs of more housework, why would they ever accept marriage proposals? Thus, this story assumes that women (contrary to some other research) enjoy extra benefits from marriage. Furthermore, men must be able to figure out that women are enjoying extra benefits and use the fact that their partner faces now higher costs of dissolving the relationship to extract at least some of their spouses increased enjoyment of the relationship in the form of reduced housework. Thus, in this highly simplified story, women essentially bribe men to marry them by offering to do more of the housework.

Now, while I could probably come up with more sophisticated and realistic stories for what's going on, isn't that simple story more satisfying than simply saying that marriage "traditionalizes" relationships?

Comments: Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]