Sunday 17 January 2010

Ep 120: Correlation of the Week: Housework and Sex

There's nothing quite like pulling on the rubber gloves, splashing each other with dirty dish-water and then reaching for the vacuum cleaner with the adjustable nozzle to get you in mood for love.

The first Correlation of the Week for 2010 is awarded to Constance Gager, from Montclair State University, and Scott Yabiku, from Arizona State University, who discovered that wives and husbands who spend more hours in housework and paid work report more frequent sex. They theorise that women and men who "work hard" also "play hard."

To listen to this show, tune in here (or press play below):

The report, Who Has the Time? The Relationship Between Household Labor Time and Sexual Frequency, published in the Journal of Family Issues, documented a survey of 6,877 married couples which showed that couples who devote lots of time to work and chores still make time for sex. The results contradict the idea that time spent on household chores reduces the opportunity for sex - worth remembering next time this particular excuse is used...

The authors controlled the results for "gender ideology" - that is, they controlled for the various viewpoints people have on their relationships. For example, a wife with a 1950s mentality might regard doing lots of housework and having frequent sex as part of her marital responsibilities. The housework-sex link was found to exist no matter what views each member held.

Housework was defined as:
  • cleaning, 
  • preparing meals, 
  • washing dishes, 
  • washing and ironing clothes, 
  • driving family members around, 
  • shopping, 
  • yard work, 
  • maintaining cars,
  • paying bills. 
Husbands spent on average 23.4 hours per week performing these household tasks, whilst wives spent 41.8 hours a week. Husbands spent an average 33.8 hours a week working, compared with 19.7 hours for wives. This means that the wives in the study spent a total of 61.5 hours a week either working at their job or at home, compared to 57.2 for their husbands. And just so you know how you stack up, the couples in the study reported having sex 82.7 times a year (1.6 times per week). Sexual frequency went down with age and the length of the relationship. Protestants had more sex than the Catholics - presumably the Catholics had more unprotected sex.... Having small children reduced frequency but once the kids were older, the frequency went back up.

Couples who spent more time in paid work also reported more sex. This led the authors to conclude that "individuals may be achievers across multiple spheres." They theorise that as life gets busier and time gets tighter, some couples can successfully balance their time commitments to make time for sex.

So there you have it, couples who make time to do their household chores also make time for loving. More at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Wall Street Journal. And for more weird and wonderful correlations, see our Correlation of the Week tag.


  1. Constance gager here, co-author of the study described in this post. May I just say THANK YOU for a succinct and ACCURATE depiction of our research and for the award for Correlation of the Week. Mr. Science, you are smart and funny! Just to answer the question of how we "control" for things like income, gender ideology etc...the short answer is tat statistically we only compare peple with the same income or gender ideology, thereby removing the chance that the correlation is due to difference in income or gender ideology etc. And, most importantly we find that the association between housework time and sex holds for BOTH husbands and wives, so it can't be men underestimating sex as they are scared by a wife who asks them to do some housework! Most research shows men overestimate sexual frequency and women underestimate it. And as noted, a large data set helps to minimize biases like these. It is correct that truly valid data on sex is hard to collect, but these survey questions were self-administered, meaning the spouse didn't have to tell an interviewer how much sex they were having, which reduces biased answers. And lastly, there is no reason to bleive that individuals who provide biased answers to sex also provide biased answers to housework time. Thanks again Mr. Science, I am psoting yyou on Facebook!

  2. Hi Constance - Thanks so much for your comment and for explaining those points! It's lovely to have the author of a study comment.

    It was a great study - the sort of work that's interesting to postulate about. The other guys who you heard in the podcast hadn't read the report beforehand so their comments were their first thoughts on hearing what I had to say. I think I edited it down a little - prompted some interesting discussion - thanks!

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