Even Gay Couples Are Assigned Gender Roles in Domestic Scenarios

A new survey finds that Americans presume feminine partners in same-sex couples do more cooking and cleaning.
A couple feed their baby daughter. (Photo: Getty Images)
Aug 25, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

The image of a 1950s barefoot-in-the-kitchen housewife preparing dinner for her working husband has left its mark on ensuing generations: New research finds that modern Americans still apply these gender roles to both opposite and same-sex couples.

“Americans’ attitudes toward chores and childcare don’t seem to have caught up with the times,” Natasha Quadlin, lead author of the study and a doctoral student at Indiana University, wrote in an email to TakePart.

The study, which was recently presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, examines how partners’ sex, gender-normative hobbies and income affect perceptions of whose responsibility it should be to handle household chores and childcare.

More than 1,000 participants were presented with randomized vignettes describing gay, lesbian, and heterosexual couples. The fictional partners were given professions, salaries, and hobbies. The occupations—physical therapist and reporter—were described as equally strenuous but with the therapist earning more than double the journalist. The hobbies were constructed to reflect gender-normative feminine and masculine inclinations, with the former having an affinity for rom-coms and shopping and the latter preferring action flicks and playing basketball. The respondents, the majority of whom identified as heterosexual, then answered questions about which fictional spouse should handle household and childcare responsibilities.

“For heterosexual couples, sex mattered much more than anything else we described about the partners,” Quadlin wrote, adding that she was surprised that partners’ incomes had little impact on assigning responsibilities.

In homosexual relationships, Quadlin and her colleagues found that people used gendered hobbies as a substitution for sex—meaning whoever liked romantic comedies more was often selected for diaper duty too.

For gay and lesbian couples, the bulk of traditionally female chores were relegated to the partner who liked romantic comedies and shopping, even if that partner made more money: 66 percent of respondents said the feminine partner should handle grocery shopping, 61 percent said that partner should cook, and 58 percent said that partner should clean the house. The feminine partner was also assigned more childcare duties, such as bathing and dressing. On the other hand, 67 percent of respondents assigned car repairs and lawn mowing to the masculine partner.

Essentially, respondents designated one partner as the man and the other as the woman in gay couples and used those heteronormative designations to guide their thinking.
Although masculine and feminine qualities guided respondents’ chore division for same-sex couples, it was not as strong of a predictor as sex was for heterosexual couples. Upwards of 75 percent of respondents said that the female partner was expected to cook, clean, do laundry, and buy groceries. Nearly 90 percent of responders expected the male partner to handle car repairs and yard work.

The report did, however, indicate a growing acceptance of the concept of the stay-at-home dad. Income was the most important factor in determining which partner should be the stay-at-home parent, with nearly 80 percent of respondents believing the lower-earning spouse in both gay and straight couples should be the one to give up his or her job.