Higher Housework Burden Stresses Women

Woman shooting herself with spray cleaner.
Unequal employment and pay add to mom's stressors, because they make her feel the need to do more housework. (Image credit: Levent Konuk | ShutterStock)

While women are doing less housework than they used to, they still take on the brunt of the household cleaning chores. New research indicates that this extra work stresses them out, and that stress worsens when there is salary or gender inequality present in the relationship.

The findings match up well with previous studies regarding changes in the division of housework in the last decade. Though both men and women spend less time spent on domestic duties thanks to time-saving technologies, women still take on a large amount of the work, past studies show.

"In this study, women were in the majority (85 percent) in the combination of having more than half of the responsibility for domestic work and an equal socioeconomic position to the partner," the researchers write in their research detailed today, June 13, in the journal PLoS ONE.

Working women

The researchers studied data from 371 women and 352 men from the Northern Swedish Cohort, collected in 1986 and 2007, when the participants were on average 21 and 42, respectively. At 42, all participants analyzed were living with children.

The participants answered questionnaires about their relationships, housework responsibilities, socioeconomic status of themselves and partners, and "psychological distress" level gauged by the number of times they've felt restless, unable to concentrate, or worried and nervous, in the last year.

"Domestic work is a highly gendered activity as women tend to have a greater and men a smaller responsibility," the researchers write. "Inequality in domestic work, in combination with experiencing the couple relationship as gender-unequal, were associated with psychological distress."

Psychological distress

At 42, more women than men were psychologically distressed, the study found — at 21, distress levels were equal. They also found that women did more housework, and women were more likely to have jobs lower on the socioeconomic scale, and get paid less than men at the same job position: all signs of gender inequality.

For instance, more than 56 percent of women indicated they did more than half of the housework, compared with slightly less than 10 percent of men saying the same. Fourteen percent and 9 percent of women and men, respectively, indicated they did all of the housework.

The amount of extra housework women do, and the stress that comes from it, depends on multiple factors in the relationship. If inequalities permeate the relationship, the researchers found, they will trickle down into housework, too.

When partners were on equal footing job-wise, the partner doing more than half of the housework responsibilitiesindicated more stress than those not taking on the brunt of housework. Most of the participants in these lower-paying positions were women, which could be why they are more distressed than men, the researchers said.

Jennifer Welsh

Jennifer Welsh is a Connecticut-based science writer and editor and a regular contributor to Live Science. She also has several years of bench work in cancer research and anti-viral drug discovery under her belt. She has previously written for Science News, VerywellHealth, The Scientist, Discover Magazine, WIRED Science, and Business Insider.