Ali’s blog

Mostly quant stuff with occasional digressions


Posted by alifinmath on April 6, 2009

An amusing article by Lucy Kellaway in today’s FT:

I suspect that when the inevitable rush of banking divorces starts it won’t be because wives can no longer afford a new Gucci handbag. It will be chore war instead. As it is, two-thirds of divorces over the age of 40 are initiated by women. And 80 per cent of the arguments they start are about who does what at home.

… The other friend says she does 105 per cent of the work in her house. Her husband’s contribution is -5 per cent, as he makes a terrible mess and forgets to pick up the children from drama club. This woman is a formidable manager when at work, and so it is strange that she has failed to motivate her husband to lend a hand.

She said she had tried everything: negotiating, sulking and pep talks. The only thing that worked was having a tantrum. This was very effective in the short term, but in the longer term the status quo returned, and an even greater tantrum was required the next time.

In my own experience nothing is more guaranteed to create disharmony than fussing about 50:50. I have just done a little test and asked some couples I know about the division of labour in their houses. In each case the man says that he does two or three times more than his wife thinks he does. In my household my husband feels he does 40:60; I think it is more like 10:90. I don’t mind him doing 10 per cent; I do mind him thinking it is 40 per cent. A spreadsheet is not going to resolve this as the weighting of chores is a subjective matter. He places a higher value on taking his sons to cricket than I do. I do a lot of jobs that he does not value at all.

Subjective weightings … hmmm. Well, Lucy does have a point. It is difficult to make two (or more) people agree on much of anything. Housework can be enervating. Strange how marriages make or break on ostensibly mundane matters such as housework.


3 Responses to “Chore-chore”

  1. Dag said

    In danger of appearing a bit snotty, I don’t find it all that strange. For the majority of people who cannot afford a help and where both spouses work, a lot of their time together will be doing chores. Add a couple of kids and traditional views on what’s a “natural division” of chores in the home perhaps not matching neither each partner’s contribution to their financial situation nor which chores have been eased with new tools and which chores are now “out-sourced” and it doesn’t look all that bright.
    Discussing what you expect your partner to do of the chores and how they’re all weighted isn’t most people’s idea of romance. They don’t seem as interested in “sticking it out for the kids” as before either. I’m not saying doing so would work out noticably better for their children, it’s just possible that with more of a “this marriage isn’t working out for me at all, I’m out of here” mentality 50 years ago, you might have seen numbers closer to today’s then too, if chores were seen as unfairly divided.

  2. alifinmath said

    Ah, now there speaks a Scandinavian! :–) Scandinavian women are independent and the divorce rate in Scandinavia is on the high side. I’m not sure if women weren’t thinking along similar lines fifty years ago but if I had to venture a guess, it would be that their options were more circumscribed then.Today higher education and careers are more open to them — which means they can live independently of their spouses and are less likely to take any static from them.

    The romance part of a marriage usually fizzles out within a couple of years. And then it becomes more of a working partnership. And I suppose such a partnership is made or broken on 1) how equitable the chores are divided, and 2) whether the partners have compatible interests and personalities.

  3. Dag said

    My grandmother on my mother’s side left my grandfather early in the 50ies I think, but he was a special case and she had to work very hard to offset it, I don’t think it was an actual option for most people, I agree.

    I think I’d probably describe romance as having compatible interests and personalities, or maybe it’s the process of discovering it. Either way, it’ll take some careful picking and good fortune to have it work over a longer stretch of time.

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