How do women end up doing more work in a share house?

Bevers, the near dormant housemate in Broad City.

Bevers, the near dormant housemate in Broad City.

We all know about the risks of STDs, but a new study published last week in the Journal of Sociology revealed the little known condition called 'STDW': Sexually Transmitted Domestic Work.

Not all women are at risk of STDW. Straight women who live with their male partners are the largest cohort who are exposed to STDW. The study found that young women who live with an intimate male partner do an average of 125 minutes of domestic work per day, while women who live with a flat mate only do 78 minutes per day.

This means that sleeping with a male person you're also living with adds an extra 47 minutes of domestic work to your life every day. That's over five hours a week!

Sex-induced domestic work affects women's lives more than men's. Men who live in group houses do 63 minutes of domestic work per day compared with 74 minutes when living with a female partner — an increase of 11 minutes per day.

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University of New South Wales researches Lyn Craig, Abigail Powell and Judith E. Brown uncovered the domestic work sex tax after analysing 2006 Australian Bureau of Statistics Time Use Survey data from 895 people aged 20–34 who did not have children.

They were investigating if the gender inequality of domestic work that is prevalent in families also exists among childless young people. The answer, in short is: yes, it does.

No matter what the living arrangement is, women do more domestic work than men.

Not surprisingly, young people who live with their parents do the fewest hours of domestic work, but even at home, women do significantly more than their brothers — 61 minutes per day compared with 40 minutes.

Women who live in group houses do 15 minutes more domestic work per day than their male flat mates and women living alone did 99 minutes compared with 72 minutes for men who live by themselves.

Other than when young men live at home, the amount of domestic work they do does not vary much according to their living arrangements. Women's on the other hand, varies enormously, and the increase is most significant when they're living with a male partner.

I'd suggest that it's not just younger women who are at risk of STDW. I know of women who move in with their partner and before long start making his lunch and ironing his shirts. I have friends who look forward to their partner going away because they consider his absence to be a break from domestic work. They can lower their standards when their bloke isn't around.

The good news from this research is that men don't turn into slobs when they shack up with a woman. They do pretty much the same amount of domestic work when they're living with their partner as compared to when they are living alone.

Why then do women end up doing so much more work when they start co-habitating with their lover?

Unfortunately the research doesn't pinpoint an answer. But the type of domestic work undertaken by men and women may go some way to explain the discrepancy.

The researchers looked at domestic work that is done for the benefit of self and work done for the benefit of the household. Anyone who's familiar with patterns of domestic work won't be surprised by the outcome.

No matter the make up of the household or the living arrangements, the bulk of men's domestic work was done for themselves, whereas women's domestic work was done for the benefit of the household.

And no surprises for guessing which group of women did the most work for others. That's right! Women living with their male partner spent the most time doing the more laborious routine tasks of grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and clothes washing for the household.

Women are socialised to care for the people around them, particularly if those other people happen to be men. No doubt this is because women's worth in a relationship is largely determined by how well they care for their partner.

Men, by contrast, are socialised to do work when it directly benefits them. Otherwise, what's the point?

To be fair, not all men expect their girlfriend to become their housekeeper once they share the same address. Nonetheless, the idea that a good wife or female partner is synonymous with being a good carer is pervasive in our culture. It's easy to see how couples can just fall into these gender roles if they don't take deliberate steps to avoid them.

Women need to become just as vigilant in protecting themselves against sexually transmitted domestic work as they are for all the other STDs.

Kasey Edwards is writer and best-selling author. www.kaseyedwards.com