Sociology professor Judith Treas
Sociology professor Judith Treas found U.S. couples at odds over housework; graduate student Leah Ruppanner, who studies family dynamics, demonstrates this conflict with husband Casey Wagner. Daniel A. Anderson / University Communications

Attention married women: Up to your elbows in housework? Having trouble getting your husbands to chip in? According to sociology professor Judith Treas, odds are you answered yes if you live in the U.S. Swedish couples, on the other hand, are more likely to share the chores.

“We tend to believe that the issue of who does the dishes is an intimate matter based on personal preferences or private negotiations with our partner,” Treas says, “but actually, how couples split the chores depends upon where they live.”

With a newly awarded $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Treas is leading a comparative study of gender equality and the division of labor in European countries and the U.S. While not guaranteed to garner more help around the house for American women, Treas’ findings may help explain declining fertility rates and rising divorce rates.

Using recent surveys completed in dozens of Western countries, she aims to discover common values in gender egalitarian societies and how they differ from societies in which men avoid “women’s work” around the house.

“In the U.S. more and more women are working for pay, yet housework, childcare and household management still fall mostly upon their shoulders,” Treas said. This double shift at work and home has important impacts on marriages, childbearing decisions and workplace pay.

In Sweden, where gender equality is promoted more prominently than in the U.S., Treas notes that men take on a larger share of the housework than their American counterparts, while in Germany, the traditional homemaker still is the ideal, and men leave more of the work to their wives.

One of the findings she calls most interesting so far is the effect of labor migration on shared household responsibilities. “We’ve found that wives are more likely to turn to husbands for help around the house in countries with higher rates of residential mobility, such as the case in Australia,” she said.

Working with Treas on this international study are leading researchers from Germany, the Netherlands and Hungary who will tackle other aspects of gender equality including poverty, managerial employment, and organizational membership. The study is conducted as part of the European Science Foundation’s European Collaborative Research Programme, which encourages innovation by bringing together top researchers from different countries. The project started in September and runs through August 2011.

In addition to her role as sociology professor, Treas directs the new UCI Center for Demographic & Social Analysis and is president of the Pacific Sociological Association, the nation’s largest regional association for sociologists.