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The flip side of modern family

When it comes to divorce, the division of household duties may well have been to blame.

In what appears to be a slap in the face for gender equality, the divorce risk for couples sharing chores equally is 50 percent higher than in relationships where the woman shoulders most of the traditional household burden, according to a controversial Norwegian study.

`What we’ve seen is that sharing equal responsibility for work in the home doesn’t necessarily contribute to contentment,’ says Thomas Hansen, co-author of Equality in the Home, a study conducted by  the Norwegian Social Research institute (NOVA).

`One would think that break-ups would occur more often in families with less equality at home, but our statistics show the opposite. The more a man does in the home, the higher the divorce rate.’

The statistics seemed to reflect a change in overall attitudes rather than  the chores themselves or men’s reluctance to be helpful, Hansen commented.

In most cases, couples who divided housework equally demonstrated modern attitudes towards marriage, including a perception of marriage as being less sacred, he said. As a result, these people were more likely to opt for divorce rather than remain in a dysfunctional, unsatisfying marriage.

`In these modern couples, women also tend to have a high level of education and a well-paid job, which makes them less dependent on their spouse financially,’ he added. `They can manage much easier if they divorce.
`Maybe it’s sometimes seen as a good thing to have very clear roles with lots of clarity … where one person is not stepping on the other’s toes.

`There could be less quarrels, since you can easily get into squabbles if both have the same roles and one has the feeling that the other is not pulling his or her own weight.’

In Norway, which has long tradition of gender equality, child-rearing is generally shared equally between mothers and fathers (in seven out of 10 couples), says Hansen. But when it comes to housework, women in Norway still account for most of it in seven out of 10 couples.

The study also pointed out, however, that those women were largely satisfied with the situation.

Dr Frank Furedi, Sociology professor at the University of Canterbury in the UK, said the study made sense as chore-sharing took place more among couples from middle class professional backgrounds, where divorce rates are known to be high.

`These people are extremely sensitive to making sure everything is formal, laid out and contractual. That does make for a fairly fraught relationship,’ he says.

`The more you organise your relationship, the more you work out diaries and schedules, the more it becomes a business relationship than an intimate, loving spontaneous one. That tends to encourage a conflict of interest rather than finding harmonious resolutions.

`In a good relationship people simply don’t know who does what and don’t particularly care. Unless marriage is a relationship above anything else, then whenever there are tensions or contradictions things come to a head. You have less capacity to forgive and absorb the bad stuff.’

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