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Who Does The Housework When Nobody Goes To Work? Gender, Health and Housework In Retired Couples

A new study by researchers Claudia Geist of University of Utah and Jennifer Tabler of University of Texas Rio Grande Valley looks at how retired heterosexual married couples ages 60 and older share household tasks. 

The study seeks to address a few questions: when nobody works anymore, who does the housework? How do aging and deteriorating health impact how couples share household chores?

Throughout her career, Geist has researched gender inequality in housework.

“No matter how we look at it, women do more housework than men,” she said. “Perhaps this is not really surprising, but sometimes it just bears repeating that across the lifespan, women do more work.”

The researchers found that even when nobody was working, women still did more housework. One finding that surprised Geist was that when women’s health suffered, the amount of housework they did decreased more drastically than men’s did when their health declined.

“We thought, ‘Well, are women just dropping the ball the moment they get sick?’” Geist said. “But part of it is that for these older men, they were having relatively low levels of involvement that they can’t really cut back all that much.”

Geist said the big takeaway from the study is that in order for women to cut back the amount of housework they do when their health declines, their male partners may need to be reminded to pick up the slack.

“When healthcare practitioners tell their female patients that maybe they should take it easy, cut back on housework, they should maybe also loop in the partners that they have and make it clear that that may mean that men have to step up,” Geist said. “Because otherwise, women may only cut back when they have these extreme health problems and overall, especially in this fairly traditional generation that we looked at, some extra nudging may be necessary for men to do their part.”