Previous research has established the influence of the division of household labor between spouses on marital satisfaction, as well as the mental health of each spouse. Less is known about how the division of labor changes during the course of marriage. The family development perspective suggests that division of labor will change in response to different stages and circumstances, while the homeostasis perspective suggests that the division of labor will remain stable throughout the life course. This study used data from a 35 year longitudinal study of married women to examine changes of household division of labor over the life course. Participants in this study were wives of medical trainees at an East Coast medical school. Data collection at Time-1 included 175 wives in 1969-1970. The wives were also contacted in 1980 (Time-2), 1990 (Time-3), and 2005 (Time-4). All the participants were white. The average age of the women at Time-1 was 25.5 years. Participation in household labor was measured using five questions reflecting how much the husband helped in traditionally female stereotyped tasks. The five tasks were: does the family wash, sets table for dinner, clears table after meals, washes the dishes, and prepares meals. Other variables were included to help explain the change in husband participation in household labor over the course of the marriage, including number of children, the number of hours worked by the wife, and the wife's level of education. Multi-level growth curve modeling was used to examine stability and change in husband participation in household tasks over time. The fixed effects in the baseline model showed a significant positive linear slope indicating more husband participation over time. The random effect for time was also significant, suggesting variability in slopes across the sample. Results from the quadratic effect for time indicated a downward linear slope, attenuated by a positive quadratic slope. Thus, the results indicate that husbands participate less in household tasks early in marriage, but their level of participation increases in midlife. No predictor variables accounted for significant variability in the initial value or rate of change in the husband's participation in household tasks.



College and Department

Family, Home, and Social Sciences; Family Life; Marriage and Family Therapy



Date Submitted


Document Type





division of household labor, family life course