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Distributed May 5, 2004
Contact Kristen Cole

Dual-earner couples
Who does the housework affects whether couples have a second child

In dual-earner couples, the probability of having a second child varies substantially according to the division of housework, says a new Brown University study in Population Development and Review. Researchers studied 265 dual-earner married couples in the United States.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — In a study of dual-career couples with one child, researchers at Brown University have determined that the division of household labor affects the couple’s decision to have a second child.

Eighty-one percent of couples in which the husband does at least half of the housework will have a second child. For couples in which the wife does most or all of the housework, the figure is 74 percent. But when the wife does between 54 and 84 percent of the housework, the likelihood of the couple having a second child is 55 percent.

“It’s the couples who are no longer following the traditional division of labor but haven‘t quite figured out how to divide the housework that are least likely to have a second child,” said Berna Miller Torr, lead author of the study, which was published in the most recent issue of Population Development and Review. “These couples may well struggle with the balance between work and family, choosing less family as a result.”

Researchers studied 265 dual-earner married couples who had at least one biological child under 16. Their information was collected within the larger National Survey of Families and Households first in 1987-88, and then again in 1992-94. Most couples that have a second child do so within five years of the first.

In the survey, both husbands and wives reported how much time they and their spouses spent each week on nine household tasks: preparing meals, washing dishes, cleaning house, outdoor tasks, shopping, washing/ironing, paying bills, auto maintenance and driving.

Modern families, defined as those in which women performed less than 54 percent of housework, were highly likely to progress to a second birth within five years. Eighty-one percent of couples in that group had a second child. Nearly as likely were couples that reported a more traditional division of household labor, in which women performed more than 84 percent of the housework. Seventy-four percent of those couples had a second child.

While women’s participation in the labor force in developed countries worldwide has increased sharply, housework remains highly gendered and women bear the burden of it. For women, the difference in the division of housework is exacerbated by parenthood however the birth of a first child had no effect on men’s hours.

“A common theme in ... analyses of low fertility has been differences in the compatibility between formal employment and motherhood,” said Torr. “The explanation for low fertility among many women participating in the formal labor force may have as much to do with what men are doing or not doing within the household as it has to do with what women are doing outside the household.”

In this study, couples reported that wives performed an average 32 hours per week of housework, while husbands performed 17 hours of housework, on average. All wives were employed at least part-time and 67 percent were employed full-time.

Notably, neither men’s nor women’s egalitarian gender ideology had an effect on the relationship between the division of housework and fertility. Equity in practice rather than ideology appeared to be the more important predictor of whether couples would have a second child, according to Torr.

Torr, a graduate student in sociology at Brown, co-authored the paper with Susan E. Short, associate professor of sociology. They presented an earlier version of the paper at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association. Torr was supported by a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) training fellowship.


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