Updated Apr 15, 2023 - Economy

Marriages are becoming more "egalitarian." Just not with housework

Share of U.S. opposite-sex marriages, by earning arrangement
Data: Pew Research Center; Note: "Roughly the same" refers to each spouse earning 40%-60% of the couple’s joint earnings. "Earning more" refers to an individual earning over 60% of the couple’s joint earnings or being the sole person earning; Chart: Axios Visuals

In a growing share of opposite-sex marriages, husbands and wives earn about the same income, according to a newly released Pew Research Center analysis of government data.

Why it matters: At first glance this looks like the U.S. is inching closer to gender equality. But these marriages, which Pew calls "egalitarian," are still unbalanced when it comes to unpaid work — with wives spending more time on caregiving and housework.

Zoom out: Decades ago, a Berkeley professor wrote "The Second Shift," a book about the work women perform outside of their paying jobs.

  • This care work only intensified during the pandemic era, and though remote work has afforded some Americans the ability to balance work and home life, the gap still lingers.

Details: The Pew analysis finds that husbands spend an average of 3.5 hours more than their spouses per week on leisure activities; and wives spend about 2 more hours on caregiving; and roughly 2.5 hours more on housework. (See the chart below.)

  • Even in marriages where the wife is the primary breadwinner, earning 60% or more of the income, husbands spend less time on housework and caregiving.
  • It's only in marriages where the wife is the sole breadwinner — 6% of couples overall — that husbands spend more time caring for others than their wives, Pew finds.
Hours spent each week on select activities in U.S. "egalitarian" marriages
Data: Pew Research Center; Note: Egalitarian marriages are when each spouse earns 40%-60% of the couple’s joint earnings; Chart: Simran Parwani/Axios

There are important demographic differences when it comes to how couples earn their money.

  • Black women, women with college degrees or with fewer children are more likely to be in egalitarian marriages.

The bottom line: A lot of the differences here are tied up with cultural expectations for men and women. Separate research has found that same-sex couples divide chores more equally.

  • In a separate survey, Pew finds that a majority of Americans say society values men's contributions at work more than their contributions at home.
  • For women, the results were more of a mishmash. 49% of Americans said the contributions women make at home and work are valued equally, while about a third said a woman's contributions at home are of more value.

Editor's note: This story was originally published on April 13.

Go deeper