Gender, Division of Unpaid Family Work and Psychological Distress in Dual-Earner Families

Clinical Practice & Epidemiology in Mental Health 18 June 2010 RESEARCH ARTICLE DOI: 10.2174/1745017901006010036



Epidemiological studies have only recently begun to address the consequences of unpaid family work (ie., housework and child rearing) for mental health. Although research is suggestive of an association between the division of unpaid family work and psychological health, especially for women, additional research is required to clarify the conditions under which such a relationship holds. The purpose of the present study was to examine more nuanced relationships between the division of family work and psychological distress by disaggregating the family work construct according to type (housework/child rearing), control over scheduling, and evaluations of fairness.


Analysis of data obtained from a cross-sectional telephone survey conducted in a Canadian city. Analyses were based on 293 employed parents (182 mothers and 111 fathers), with at least one preschool child, living in dual-earner households. Several multiple linear regression models were estimated with psychological distress as the outcome, adjusting for confounders.


For mothers, more perceived time spent in child rearing (particularly primary child care) and high-schedule-control housework tasks (e.g. yard work) relative to one’s partner, were associated with greater distress. For fathers, perceived unfairness in the division of housework and child rearing were associated with greater distress.


Although methodological limitations temper firm conclusions, these results suggest that the gendered nature of household work has implications for the psychological well-being of both mothers and fathers of preschool children in dual-earner households. However, more longitudinal research and the development of theoretically-informed measures of family work are needed to advance the field.

Keywords: Gender, mental health, housekeeping, parenthood, mothers, fathers.
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