Researchers asked almost 500 couples across the United States who were married or living together about how they divided certain childcare responsibilities such as playing and enforcing rules, and also how satisfied they were with their relationships and their sex lives.
The researchers found that most people in the survey -- 73% of the women and 80% of men -- reported that they shared childcare equally with their partner. Among the rest of the women, 24% said that they did the bulk of the work. As for the remainder of the men, about 10% said they assumed most of these responsibilities themselves and another 10% said their partners did.
"It was definitely interesting" that many couples viewed their division of childcare labor as equal, said Daniel L. Carlson, assistant professor of sociology at Georgia State University and lead author of the study. The study was presented on Sunday at the American Sociological Association meeting, but has not been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
The researchers found that couples that reported splitting the child-rearing responsibilities also reported the highest level of satisfaction with their relationship and sexual intimacy, and the lowest amount of fighting. "Being satisfied is a strong predictor of relationship stability, so these things bode well for (couples) staying together," although the study did not look at divorce rates, Carlson said.
On the other hand, couples in which the woman took on most or all of the childcare work reported the least amount of satisfaction and highest amount of relationship conflict. The minority of couples in which the man did the lion's share of the work reported an intermediate level of satisfaction.
Part of the reason that the study found such a high rate of dads pitching in could be because the survey asked about tasks -- playing, praising, creating and enforcing rules -- that men are more inclined to do, Carlson said. It is not clear if the men were also doing their share of cooking and cleaning for the children, he said.
Some research does suggest, however, that women and men might be divvying up all childcare tasks more fairly. One study
found that, although women spend slightly more time each week on childcare in recent years (13.7 hours) than in the 1960s (10.5 hours), men are putting in a lot more time now (7.2 hours) than before (2.5 hours).
It is hard to know if the trend will continue to the point that women and men are investing about the same amount of time in childcare, said Margaret L. Usdansky, a research associate professor of child and family studies at Syracuse University. There is some evidence that progress has stalled, possibly because of factors such as income inequality.
In general, couples who are more egalitarian in their childcare responsibilities tend to have better relationships, Usdansky said. "Not everybody wants sharing, but most couples need two incomes, it's not just a choice, and when two people are working, then I think in most cases couples are going to be happier when there is more sharing of all the different kinds of work," including childcare and housework, she said.
The current study found that couples that shared childcare pretty evenly did not necessarily spend more time together. "It's plausible that you could have a positive impact on (relationship) satisfaction without changing the amount of time that couples spend together," said Usdansky, who was not involved in the current study. "They might be spending more of their time together enjoying (each other) and less of it scheduling and figuring out what they are doing tomorrow," she said.