Married couples who have lived together before tying the knot share housework more equally than those who do not, a University of Queensland study has found.
"Cohabiting couples are more egalitarian and more liberal about housework than married couples, and it seems if you cohabit before you marry it's likely some of those egalitarian patterns will carry over into the marriage," said Associate Professor Janeen Baxter of UQ's Sociology, Anthropology and Archaeology Department.
Dr Baxter's study also found that women in de facto relationships had a lighter workload - doing about six hours less housework per week than married women.
"Cohabiting couples have a more equal arrangement and are less traditional in terms of who does what - cohabiting men do more indoor tasks than married men and cohabiting women do more outdoor ?male' tasks," Dr Baxter said.
"There's less inequality in terms of the time. Cohabiting women spend less time on housework than married women; cohabiting men spend more time on housework than married men do."
Women in de facto relationships reported spending 19 hours a week on housework, while married women reported spending 25 hours a week. Both married and cohabiting men reported spending nine hours per week on housework.
The study, To Marry or Not to Marry: the impact of marital status on the division of household labour, surveyed 1400 couples (1200 married and 200 cohabiting) and is part of an Australia-wide longitudinal study called Negotiating the Lifecourse.
Dr Baxter found that married couples used a more "traditional" division of labour than cohabiting couples, with women shouldering most of the indoor work and men doing more outdoor tasks.
Cohabiting men do about 40 percent of indoor work compared to 27 percent for married men, while cohabiting women do about 71 percent of indoor work and married women do about 81 percent.
"This is significant because indoor tasks have to be done regularly and are much more time-consuming. And although men do 70 or 80 percent of outdoor tasks, that might only involve ten minutes a week taking out the garbage and an hour a week mowing the lawn. It's quite small and very much depends whether you're living in a flat or a house."
Women with careers still take on the lion's share of domestic chores, often juggling more tasks in less time, Dr Baxter said.
"While women have made big inroads into paid employment and moving up the career ladder, within the household things are still fairly unequal and there's a very clear gender division," she said. "The expectation was that this inequality would change once married women moved into paid work in bigger numbers, but it hasn't changed.
"This is to do with the institution of marriage and the fact that it is a very traditional arrangement - there's a big difference between being someone's partner and being someone's wife or husband. Attitudes change, the whole relationship changes and becomes much more one of dominance/submission within marriage."
For more information, contact Dr Janeen Baxter (telephone 3365 2871, facsimile 3365 1544 or Helen Lewis telephone 3365 2619 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.