Sociologists have settled an important debate - namely, do women really want a man that does housework. The answer is 'no', according to an important new paper which found that married men and women who divide household chores in traditional ways report having more sex than couples who share the women's work.  

Other studies have found that husbands got more sex if they did more housework, implying that women appreciated that in their spouse, or, since sociologists usually find the worst way to spin everything, that the sex was in exchange for doing housework. But those studies did not factor in what types of chores the husbands were doing, according to the new paper in the journal American Sociological Review which found that sex isn't a bargaining chip. Instead, sex is linked to what types of chores each spouse completes. 

Couples who follow traditional gender roles around the house – wives do the cooking, cleaning and shopping while men do yard work, pay bills and work on cars – reported greater sexual frequency. The findings came from a national survey of about 4,500 heterosexual married U.S. couples participating in the National Survey of Families and Households. The data were collected from 1992 to 1994, the most recent large-scale survey available that measured sexual frequency in married couples. The sociologists believe it is unlikely that the division of housework, which did not include child care in this study, and sex have changed much in 20 years. Because that would invalidate the whole paper.

They found that husbands, with an average of age 46, and wives, with an average age of 44, spent a combined 34 hours a week on traditionally female chores. Couples spent an additional 17 hours a week on chores usually thought of as men's work. Husbands performed about 20% of traditionally female tasks and a little more than 50% of the male tasks. This suggests that wives help out with men's chores more often than husbands help with female tasks.  

Men and women reported having sex about five times, on average, in the month prior to the survey. But marriages in which the wife does all the traditionally female tasks reported having had sex about 1.6 times more per month than those where the husband does all the traditionally female chores. The early 1990s were apparently a pretty good time to be a married guy no matter what.

The researchers ruled out other possible explanations for their findings, such as:

  • Husbands being sexually coercive did not have a role, because wives reported similar levels of satisfaction in their sex lives whether they were in households with traditional or nontraditional divisions of labor.
  • Two-income households had comparable patterns of sexual frequency and division of household chores relative to households where a spouse did not work outside the home. Similarly, wives' income was unrelated to how often the couple had sex.
  • Other variables such as happiness in marriage, religion and gender ideology did not have a role.

"Marriage today isn't what it was 30 or 40 years ago, but there are some things that remain important," said co-author Julie Brines, a University of Washington associate professor of sociology. "Sex and housework are still key aspects of sharing a life, and both are related to marital satisfaction and how spouses express their gender identity."