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Stability and Change in the Division of Labor among Cohabiting Couples

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Abstract

Because cohabitors express preferences for egalitarian relationships, it is generally presumed (by researchers and the popular press) that cohabiting couples engage in fairly equitable exchanges of domestic and paid work. This article explores how some cohabiting couples “do gender” through the division of labor—both paid and domestic work. Data are from in-depth interviews with both partners from 30 cohabiting couples (N = 60) who have moderate levels of education. Few of these couples began their relationships sharing both paid work and domestic labor equally. Furthermore, the number of couples engaged in equal exchanges declined over time, while those relying on conventional exchanges grew. The devalued nature of domestic work, the persistence of gender privilege, and the “stalled” revolution are evident in how these working-class cohabiting couples arrange their divisions of labor, reasons for changes, and why women are less able than men to opt out of housework.

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