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Couples less likely to divorce if husband helps with housework

Date:14 MAY 2010

Man doong the housework - Copyright 2010 istockphoto/ jhorrocks Divorce rates are lower in families where husbands help more with housework, shopping and childcare, according to new research from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

A study of 3,500 British married couples after the birth of their first child found that the more husbands helped, the lower the incidence of divorce.

The research was carried out by Wendy Sigle-Rushton, one of several UK academics comprising the Gender Equality Network, part of the Economic and Social Research Council's Priority Network Programme. 

Dr Sigle-Rushton's research analysed data on married couples who had their first child in 1970, a time when most mothers of young children stayed at home. This data came from the British Cohort Study, a nationally representative study that followed the lives of 16,000 children born in one week in 1970.

Dr Sigle-Rushton focused on 3,500 couples who had stayed together for five years after the birth of their first child.  Around 20 per cent divorced by the time the child was 16. The fathers' participation in housework, shopping and childcare is measured in the number of tasks the father was reported, by the mother, to have done in the previous week.

Just over half of fathers, in 1975, were reported to have helped with none or one task (51%), 24 per cent carried out two tasks, and about one-quarter carried out three or four, the highest contribution. Nearly a third of mothers were employed, only five per cent of whom were working full time.

It found that, relative to families in which women are homemakers and men do little housework and childcare, the risk of divorce is 97% per cent higher when the mother works outside the home and her husband makes a minimal contribution to housework and childcare. However, there is no increased risk of divorce when the mother works and her husband's contribution to housework and childcare is at the highest level. The lowest-risk combination is one in which the mother does not work and the father engages in the highest level of housework and childcare.

Dr Sigle-Rushton said: "The results suggest that the risk of divorce among working mothers, while greater, is substantially reduced when fathers contribute more to housework and childcare.

"That men's failure to contribute to housework can increase the risk of divorce may seem surprising, given that all of the families in my sample had fairly young children over the time period they are followed and a divorce would have had substantial economic consequences and would not have relieved most mothers of housework and childcare responsibilities."