Housework is rarely split evenly, for lots of different reasons. Sometimes it’s tied to who has more time at home or more physical capacity, but most of the time it is linked to gender and gender roles.
A significant body of research has looked at how heterosexual couples divide housework, so we decided to look more closely at the housework experiences of people in same-gender couples.
Our study, published today in the journal PLOS One, involved interviews with 16 same-gender couples with no children. Specifically, we wanted to know how these couples handled division of “cognitive labour”, also known as the “mental load”.
That’s the often-invisible “project-manager” work of running a household – things like organising bills, scheduling appointments, remembering birthdays and anniversaries, keeping track of house maintenance, writing the grocery list, keeping stock of the fridge and planning meals.
In heterosexual couples, the burden of the mental load falls primarily on women. Uneven division of household labour can affect mental and physical health and drive resentment.
Many people assume labour is evenly split in same-gender couples. Our study found, however, that same-gender couples divided the cognitive labour according to each other’s strengths, preferences and changing needs.
In other words, the couples did not necessarily aim for the split to be 50/50, but rather for it to be “fair”.
What we did and what we found.
The 16 couples in our study were in a same-gender relationship and living together. They did not have children living with them and were aged between 19-47. We interviewed these couples over eight months via Zoom. Four of our interviewees were men, 10 were women and two were non-binary. All interviewees identified as being in a same-gender couple at the time of the study. Unlike most other studies, we chose to speak to the interviewees as a couple so they could tell their story together.