Regardless of income breakdown, women are still shouldering more of the caregiving and housework duties, a new poll finds. (Credit: Ketut Subiyanto, Pexels)

When it comes to caregiving and cleaning, women continue to tackle the lion’s share of the work – whether or not they’re also earning the majority of the income.

A new Pew Research Center poll found that, in homes where the woman earned less than a male partner, in homes where a man and woman earned roughly the same salary, and in homes where the woman was the primary breadwinner, the woman also consistently shouldered the majority of childcare and chores.

The disparity between the amount of leisure time each partner gets per week is especially disproportionate, researchers also discovered. “Husbands in egalitarian marriages spend about 3.5 hours more per week on leisure activities than wives do,” they wrote in a summation of their findings. “Wives in these marriages spend roughly 2 hours more per week on caregiving than husbands do, and about 2.5 hours more on housework.”

The summary continues: “In marriages where wives are the primary earners, husbands’ leisure time increases significantly … while the time they spend on caregiving and housework stays about the same.”

The only deviation from this pattern came from homes where the woman was the sole breadwinner – in these instances, the man and the woman shouldered an equal amount of home-related duties. How progressive.

One more positive take-away from Pew’s latest poll? Women, in general, are earning more, and increasingly assuming the mantle of primary breadwinner. As of 2022, women were the sole or main earner about 16% of opposite-sex partnerships – triple the amount of women occupying the same role 50 years ago.

Still, “while wives’ financial contributions have grown significantly over the years, there remains an imbalance in the way leisure time, housework and caregiving are divided within couples,” researchers noted. 

To address the problem, some experts recommend policy prescriptions. A 2021 study from the nonprofit Kauffman Foundation recommends a host of possibilities. “We need to start taking action on what we know mothers need in order to successfully combine paid work with caregiving — access to paid leave, affordable and high-quality child care and flexible schedules,” study co-author Jessica Looze told The Story Exchange in an email. 

She added: “What’s important is that supports are in place to ensure that mothers who want to engage in wage or salary work are able to do so, and that mothers who want to start their own business have the opportunity to do so.”