Division of Labor in a Successful Marriage

Marriage can be hard. Raising a family, caring for a home, earning a reasonable income … is there any free time left? In many households, free time is a lopsided endeavor.

How labor is divided in marriage today

How do couples navigate the division of housework in two-income households? According to Pew Research Center, most married people in the United States believe that sharing household chores is “very important” for a successful marriage. But, by the same token, the report suggests their reality doesn’t reflect that ideal. For example, the researchers found that women tend to do more grocery shopping and cooking than men.

Despite the fact that most women hold jobs in the labor force outside the home, these findings suggest an imbalance in household work. For many, an equal division of household labor hasn’t made its way into the home.

Even today, most household responsibilities are still divided by old-fashioned gender roles. According to Gallup research, married women still take on the vast majority of the “homemaker” responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, ironing, grocery shopping, and caring for the children. Men take on the more traditional male jobs of yard work and keeping the car in working order.

Although men have made some headway by taking on more household and childcare responsibilities, women continue to be the primary hearth-and-home caretakers.

How inequality hurts partners

The manner in which a couple divides labor is often a major source of unhappiness in today’s marriage, which could translate to a higher risk of divorce. According to studies, women fundamentally take on a whole “second shift” of work when they get home from their outside jobs. This can take a toll on the marriage. 

A recent Harvard interview with Eve Rodsky suggests that even when couples do divide more obvious household responsibilities like cooking and cleaning, women still do the primary heavy lifting for the “emotional work” of tending to the home and children. 

When one spouse continues to take on a disproportionate share of the household responsibilities, it often results in the following:

  • The affected spouse feels resentful and taken advantage of
  • They feel more marital dissatisfaction
  • They feel overburdened and depressed
  • Risk of divorce increases

And sometimes, the other spouse has no idea why. 

The perception of unfairness

What is a fair division of labor? What isn’t fair?

To determine this, you might need to take a hard look at each person’s beliefs about gender roles. When spouses have differing beliefs about gender roles and household responsibilities, it can result in confusion and conflict. 

Many individuals grew up in households where the division of labor was gender-defined, fair or not. And although a person might intellectually understand the unfairness of this, they might also unwittingly slip into the well-worn grooves of the household they grew up in.

When spouses have differing “grooves” and beliefs about these roles, it can have a profound effect on the quality of their marriage. In fact, even when spouses do agree about what is and isn’t fair, an open and honest conversation is warranted.

How to make the division of labor fairer

How can you make the division of labor more acceptable for both of you? In theory, a 50/50 division of household duties may make sense. But distilling fairness into hard percentages usually doesn’t work. 

For spouses facing an inequality of labor at home, communication and flexibility are critical components. This usually requires spouses to do the following:

  • Acknowledge that each person’s time is equally important. Both people deserve to have cherished downtime for the sake of their physical and mental health.
  • Acknowledge that gender shouldn’t be the main factor in determining household duties. He may love to cook. She may love yard work. Older gender norms don’t have to be norms anymore.
  • Play to each other’s strengths. Perhaps she doesn’t mind cleaning the house on a Saturday if he takes the kids to the park. 
  • Realize there are some chores both people dislike. Split the misery. 
  • Agree not to nag or criticize. If someone harbors resentment or anger about a division of labor issue, discuss the matter without placing blame. Listen to each other’s opinions and possible solutions. 
  • Say thank you. Appreciate what the other person does, and verbalize it. 
  • Acknowledge when it’s worth getting outside help. Married couples often don’t recognize that the money they spend on hiring others to do tasks they loathe can be money well-spent in terms of their health and the relationship’s well-being.

Inequality in a couple’s paid work and unpaid work can affect the stability of their marriage. It can even be a predictor of divorce

Fairness in the division of labor requires both spouses to be open and dedicated to meeting their needs as individuals as well as the needs of the household. It requires effort, communication, and the realization that each person has their own perception of the situation and what’s really happening.

At Hello Divorce, we are dedicated to helping you live your best life possible before, during, and after a divorce. Our online services, divorce plans, and support can help educate you and direct you, no matter where you are in your process. Call us to schedule a free 15-minute call to see how we can help. 


Among U.S. couples, women do more cooking and grocery shopping than men. Pew Research Center.
Women Still Handle Main Household Tasks in U.S. Gallup.
Dad’s clueless, Mom’s fried. Maybe there’s a better way. The Harvard Gazette.
Unequal Division of Labor in Marriage Ups Risk of Divorce. LiveScience.


Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.