Men who are happy to do housework are more likely to get the girl

3 August 2009 

An Oxford study suggests that if you want to settle down, your chances of getting married or living with someone are probably highest in Great Britain, the Scandinavian countries and the United States. According to the study, men in those countries are more likely than their Australian counterparts to do the household chores and thereby make marriage a more attractive option to their nation's women.

According to an Oxford economist, marriage and cohabiting rates in developed countries can be linked to attitudes towards the roles of men and women, and views on who is responsible for doing the housework and looking after the children. Both men and women have shown they are more likely to want a live-in relationship with the opposite sex if they think their partner will do a share of the housework and childcare duties. 

The study constructs an 'egalitarian index' of 12 developed countries, based on responses to questionnaires about gender, housework and childcare responsibilities. Norway and Sweden top the egalitarian index, with Great Britain in third place, followed by the United States. At the bottom of the index are Japan, Germany, and Austria, with Australia languishing as the least egalitarian. Data about the number of women in partnerships was then compared against the index. Women of similar age and educational background were compared across the participating countries to see if their country's rating on the egalitarian index bore any relation to whether they were living with a man or not. Other controlling factors, such as the female unemployment, were taken account of.

The study found that women living in less egalitarian countries were between 20 and 50 per cent less likely to be living with a man than comparable women living in a more egalitarian country. For instance, the findings would predict that the average British woman was 8.5 percentage points more likely than a similar Australian woman to be in a live-in relationship.*

Study author Dr Almudena Sevilla-Sanz, an ESRC-funded researcher at the Centre for Time Use Research at Oxford University, concludes that women living in countries with the highest proportion of egalitarian men are more likely to marry or live with a man. The study also suggests that a more egalitarian woman in any country is less likely than a less egalitarian woman to set up home with a man because, everything else being equal, most men would choose a woman who they can rely on to do housework and look after the children. While egalitarian men seem to be viewed as a better bet by women, egalitarian women are seen as a less safe bet by men.

Dr Sevilla-Sanz said: 'In egalitarian countries you might, in principle, expect to see women preferring to remain single rather than face the prospect of spending more time doing household chores. However, this study shows that in egalitarian countries there is less social stigma attached to men doing what was traditionally women's work. For instance, if paternity leave is the social norm, more men take it. This leads to men in egalitarian societies taking on more of a domestic role so the likelihood of forming a harmonious household becomes greater, resulting in a higher proportion of couples setting up households in these countries.   'If developed countries want to look at why the birth rate in their country is falling, we need to focus on the drivers for whether couples decide to live together and start a family. It seems to show what couples ask 'Will I be better off?'. Women in less egalitarian countries are saying 'No'. Countries with a low birth rate face the challenge of a shrinking workforce in coming decades with questions about who will pay for public services and social support.'

For more information or to arrange an interview with the Dr Almudena Sevilla-Sanz, please contact the University of Oxford Press Office on 01865 280534 or email press.office@admin.ox.ac.uk 

Notes for Editors:

  •  Sample size for index: The representative sample of 13,500 men and women, aged between 20-45 years old from each of the 12 countries, was taken from the same survey carried out in 1994 and 2002 as part of the International Social Survey Program. (ISSP is a program of cross-national collaboration on surveys between several social science institutes.)
  • Calculation explained:  According to the egalitarian index, British women face a more egalitarian society than Australian women. The egalitarian index in Great Britain is 0.08, compared to - 0.16 in Australia, which results in Britain being a more egalitarian society by 0.24. Given the author's estimate that a higher egalitarian index increases the likelihood of a woman to live with a man between 20 and 50 percent, this yields a difference in the likelihood that a British woman lives with a man of 8.5 percentage points higher than her Australian counterpart, ie. 50% X 0.24+20%X 0.24=8.4 percentage points, or 0.08 per cent. The country with the highest egalitarian index is Sweden with a value of the index of 0.43.
  • The study 'Household Division of Labor and Cross-Country Differences in Household Formation Rates' by Dr Almudena Sevilla-Sanz is due to be published shortly in the Journal of Population Economics and is currently available in the journal's early version online: www.springerlink.com/content/a42u2586qwjrl731/?
  • The countries in the egalitarian index (in descending order) are: Norway, Sweden, Great Britain, United States, Northern Ireland, Netherlands, Ireland, Spain, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, Austria and Australia. 
  • The Centre for Time Use Research at the University of Oxford is funded by the ESRC to analyse how people across the world spend their time. Researchers examine surveys and the collection of detailed diaries, to see whether our use of time has changed over time, and whether the way we spend our time is affected by class, life stages or our gender. They will also explore the impact of government policy on the way we conduct our daily life. For more information, go to www.timeuse.org
  •  Dr Almudena Sevilla-Sanz is an economist based in the Centre for Time Use Research at the University of Oxford. Her research interests include: household and population economics; economics of time use; consumption theory; labour economics; and the economics of happiness. For her profile, go to www.economics.ox.ac.uk/members/almudena.sevilla
  • The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for  funding  research on economic  and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which  has an  impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2009/10 is £204 million. At any one time the ESRCsupports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and  independent  research  institutes.  http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk