Few dilemmas have ensnared the modern labor market quite like finding the right work-life balance. The widespread transition to remote work in 2020 only served to further muddy the difference between working and non-working hours. After all, how can you avoid “bringing work home” if your workplace is your home?
While it certainly has many perks (hello, sweatpants), remote work can make it challenging to establish boundaries between familial and professional responsibilities. And according to a December 2022 study published in Personnel Psychology, these blurred boundaries are hitting dual-earner families particularly hard.
As it turns out, there might be more perks to being a working-from-home husband than a WFH wife. If you currently identify as the latter, there’s a good chance you already know why—but it’s nice to have science to validate us now and then.
How Does WFH Affect The H?
Researchers from Ohio State University conducted two separate experiments based out of China and South Korea. The participants in the first study included 165 married dual-earner couples with at least one child, while the second study focused on 57 dual-earner couples with and without children.
Researchers asked participants to complete two surveys each day for 14 consecutive workdays. Participants used these surveys to report their WFH status and the amount of work and family tasks they completed.
The surveys also included emotional and mental metrics, like how much guilt the participants felt regarding their families or employers and how psychologically withdrawn they felt from either. Researchers measured the participants’ perceived family-work and work-family conflicts based on these responses.
WFH’s Effect On Intra/Interrole Conflict
Across both studies, husbands and wives were able to complete more familial tasks while working from home versus having to work in an office. However, this also resulted in greater intra- and interrole conflict, psychological withdrawal, and guilt.
Interrole conflict occurs when an individual has multiple roles and the obligations and expectations of one role mismatch those of the other. For example, a wife working from home on the weekends might miss out on spending time with the family—this is a work-family conflict (WFC).
Intrarole conflict, on the other hand, occurs when one’s internal beliefs about the obligations of a specific role don’t align with the role’s actual responsibilities. This could look like a husband’s inability to determine which is the better way to support his family—spending more time in the office or picking up slack around the house. This would be considered a family-work conflict (FWC).
When the office and dining room are suddenly merged into the same space, it can be difficult to delineate the lines between work and home life. Consequently, the roles of the dual-earner household become unclear, which can raise tensions.
An Unbalanced WFH Household
It’s not super surprising that participants could complete more familial tasks at home than in the office. Switching out laundry or loading the dishwasher on your lunch break is far easier when your living spaces are mere steps away from your “office.”
However, what is surprising is that when the wives in the study worked from home, husbands reported completing fewer familial tasks than when their wives were working in the office. The same could not be said for the reverse. Even when husbands were working remotely, women reported completing more familial tasks than their husbands.
Moreover, both studies found that working wives felt more guilt about failing to accomplish housework or spending time with family when working in the office than at home. This type of emotional response from the husbands was only reported in one of the two studies.
What Does This Mean For Your Home Office?
In summary, wives in dual-income households seem to bear the brunt of familial responsibilities on top of their professional duties. Husbands appear to get the better end of this WFH deal because, either way, wives are typically taking on more household tasks and chores.
Between weaponized incompetence and statistics that say women do 1.26 more hours of household chores per day than men, this disparity is nothing we haven’t seen before. In fact, there’s a good chance many women already knew why they were getting the fuzzy end of the WFH lollipop before they even read the study.
And, of course, this study might not reflect your reality. This study was relatively small and focused on a particular family and relationship dynamic. However, for many wives, this serves as scientific validation that 1) they’re not crazy, 2) they are overworked, and 3) something needs to change.
Learning how to manage individual responsibilities within a household can be a challenging, ongoing process. Hopefully, your partner is one who’s willing to pick up the slack where it’s needed, but if not, family therapist Dr. Jenn Mann has some helpful advice for communicating with “man-child” husbands.
Finding the right work-life balance for you is difficult enough as it is, and your partner should be helping, not hurting, the process.