Everyone knows parents are busy. But which ones are getting busy most often?
Splitting child-care duties fairly with your partner means better sex, according to a new study. Newsweek’s Jessica Firger reports that Georgia State University sociologists studied 487 straight, low- to middle-income couples. The researchers divided the couples into three groups: one in which the woman did most of the child care, one in which the man did, and the last in which the couples split it down the middle. “Child care” was defined as setting limits and rules, disciplining the child, and praising and playing with the child.
They found that the couples who divided up child-care duties evenly, with each partner shouldering between 40 and 60 percent of the responsibilities, reported higher quality relationships and sex lives than those couples in which the woman did most of the child care. Daniel L. Carlson, an assistant professor of sociology at GSU and the lead author of the study, said in a press statement: “One of the most important findings is that the only child-care arrangement that appears really problematic for the quality of both a couple’s relationship and sex life is when the woman does most or all of the child care.”
Another interesting finding concerns couples in which men did the bulk of the child care. In these instances, the women reported high satisfaction with their sex lives and the men reported low satisfaction, which is kind of a head scratcher. Are they not having the same sex? Are the men faking it?
The conclusions from this study fly directly in the face of a 2012 study that found that couples in which the men shouldered more “feminine” domestic duties, like cooking or cleaning, had less sex than couples with a more traditional chore division of labor (for example, the men did yard work or car maintenance). That study, as Firger reports, “found couples that maintained clear gender roles when it came to household tasks were happier overall.”
So what are we to conclude from this? Should we believe that traditional gender roles mean better relationships and better sex? Or is it that a more egalitarian household means hot sexy times and happy mommies and daddies? Well, consider the recent news that the majority of the findings from psychology studies can’t be reproduced, which means that every one of these studies that comes across our social media newsfeed should be taken with a grain of salt. In other words, we shouldn’t necessarily believe these kinds of studies at all. And the GSU study is limited in that the definition of child care was so restricted, it didn’t include changing diapers, bathing or feeding the kids, which is of course the heavy lifting of parenting.
I’d guess that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I suspect that when both halves of a couple are living the lives they want and are in agreement about how their household should be run, a happier relationship and better sex is the natural result. If your dream is to be a working mom, and your husband supports that and does his fair share around the home, you’re both probably feeling pretty good about your individual lives and your relationship. If you both feel that one parent at home is the way you want to live your life, ditto. It’s when desire is thwarted—when mom (or dad) is unwillingly out of work and doing more household duties, or when one parent is working when they’d rather stay at home—that the relationship is likely to take a hit.
Like this story indicates, when women get what they want, whether it’s working or staying home, the whole household benefits. The same holds true for men. A household is an ecosystem, and if one partner is overburdened and unhappy, the relationship is going to fray. No one needs an academic study to confirm that.