University of Illinois researchers looked at 220 heterosexual newlywed couples, and discovered that the wives who believed in equal sharing of housework were much happier if their husbands shared their outlook.
Among couples who divided household chores in traditional ways, similarities in belief and behavior didn't seem to have as much impact on satisfaction with a marriage, according to the research, which was published online recently in the journal Sex Roles.
"These results were interesting because usually marital satisfaction is studied in only one spouse. Here we were able to see what happens when there's a discrepancy in spouses' attitudes on this issue," study co-author Brian Ogolsky, a professor of human development and family studies, said in a university news release.
"If a woman believes that household chores should be divided equally, what happens if they adopt a traditional approach to the matter? The most satisfied couples have similar expectations and follow through on them," Ogolsky noted.
"For husbands, sharing household tasks isn't as directly related to their satisfaction. Either they don't perceive that there is a discrepancy or they have bought into the idea that the second shift belongs to women," he added.
Ogolsky warned that it was important to determine how to divide household tasks during the first two years of marriage, because patterns established during that time are likely to last for a long time. If there's not a clear understanding at the outset, it could lead to an unhappy marriage over the long-term, he suggested.
"Newlyweds need to thoughtfully plan how they can make their expectations about sharing chores work out in real life, especially if the new spouses strongly value gender equality in household labor. This issue will only matter more after children start arriving," Ogolsky said.
The research was funded through a U.S. government grant.
The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy offers advice about marriage preparation.