Sorry, men. Science no longer supports the notion that you should leave the dishes to your wife, if you want to keep the spark alive in the bedroom.
Contradicting a study published in February 2013, new research finds that egalitarian marriages — in which couples split household chores equally — are just as sexy as those in which one person does more of the housework. Another study adds that marriages in which the wife has more education than her husband no longer have a higher risk of divorce than other marriages.
The studies highlight the fact that marital relations are an ever-shifting study area. What harmed marriages two decades ago may help them today, when couples and society have updated expectations. [I Don't: 5 Myths About Marriage]
Sharing the work is sexy
Julie Brines, a sociologist at the University of Washington, and colleagues caused a stir last year with a study that found that men who did traditionally feminine household chores (cleaning, cooking and laundry) had less sex in their marriages than men who stuck to "manly" activities, such as mowing the lawn.
That study, however, focused on 4,561 couples who married at least 20 years ago, and often much earlier. To update this snapshot, Cornell University social demographer Sharon Sassler used data from 2006 from marriages formed during and after the early 1990s.
These newer marriages, which are likely more representative of what couples tying the knot today might expect, did not show the housework-related sexual handicap. In fact, Sassler found, heterosexual couples who split their chores were at least as happy with their sex lives as couples where women shouldered the domestic burden. Egalitarian couples also had sex at least as often as couples in more traditional gender arrangements.
One exception was when women declined to pitch in much at all: In the fewer than 5 percent of marriages where the men did most of the housework, sexual satisfaction and frequency dropped.
New marriage rules
Meanwhile, traditional gender roles are being upended on the education front, as well. Prior to the 1980s, couples in which the wife was more educated than the husband were more prone to divorce than couples with equal education or couples in which the husband had more schooling.
That's not the case today. In marriages formed since the 1990s, couples with a more highly educated wife do not have a greater risk of divorce than couples in which both people have an equal education. In fact, there is a slight trend toward higher divorce rates in couples with the traditional marriage model of an educated husband and less-educated wife, reported Christine Schwartz, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.
These papers, released today (July 30) by the Council on Contemporary Families (CCF), aren't the first to upend conventional matrimonial wisdom. In March, another CCF briefing found that cohabitation before marriage, long linked with divorce, does not actually increase the risk of a marriage breaking up once you account for the age when the couple moved in together. Moving in or marrying before age 23 was associated with a greater risk of breakup, the researchers reported.
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Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.