The Housework Gender Gap (Kind of) Evens Out After Retirement

Middle Aged Man in Laundromat.
Photo: Walter Lockwood/Corbis

It’s an unfortunate and unfair truth that women still do the bulk of the household chores, even those who are cohabiting but not married, and even those who work more than their male partners. The research pretty consistently shows that the housework gender gap widens after a few years of marriage — especially after a couple has children — and remains that way throughout the pair’s working lives.

It’s less clear what happens later in life, after retirement, but a new study, published online this week in the Journal of Marriage and Family, gives us a hint: It appears that retired guys nearly double their efforts around the house, at least in Germany.

The study, done by Thomas Leopold at the University of Amsterdam and Jan Skopek at the European University Institute, used responses from 1,388 couples in Germany, who’d participated in the German Socio-Economic Panel Study for at least three years, from 1985 to 2012. The researchers specifically looked at responses from couples in which the husband worked and the wife stayed home. They were curious whether, after retirement, couples tended to remain in their gendered roles, with the wife doing the bulk of the work around the house, or if the guys used some of their newfound spare time to help out. 

Their results suggest it’s the latter. In the years before the guys retired, the women reported spending an average of 6.8 hours per day on household chores — that included indoor tasks like laundry and dishes, outdoor tasks like gardening and lawn care, and out-of-the-home things like errands. During those same years, the men reported two hours per day. That means the men were doing about 21 percent of the daily household chores. 

After retirement, however, the guys pulled more of their weight, nearly doubling the chores they did in a day, to 3.9 hours. At the same time, the women did slightly less housework per day, down to 6.1 hours — which is obviously not a huge drop. But it is something! Overall, the retired guys did, on average, nearly 40 percent of the work around the house. 

It would be interesting to see what happens, post-retirement, to the division of housework in households where both partners work, or among couples in which the woman works more, or, for that matter, whether these results hold in the U.S., but these are study subjects for another day. For the couples in this study, however, the housework gender gap seems to narrow later in life. It still isn’t exactly a fair way to divide things up, but it’s at least a little less unfair.

The Chore Gap Does Close After Retirement