Gender, household labor, and psychological distress: the impact of the amount and division of housework

J Health Soc Behav. 1999 Mar;40(1):32-45.


Using a national longitudinal survey of a representative sample of 1,256 adults, I assess the impact of the amount of household labor performed and its division within the household on men's and women's depression levels, adjusting for prior mental health status. I test two alternative explanations of the contributions of household labor and the division of household labor to gender differences in depression: differential exposure and differential vulnerability. The results indicate that men's lower contributions to household labor explain part of the gender difference in depression. Inequity in the division of household labor has a greater impact on distress than does the amount of household labor. Employment status moderates the effect of the division of labor on depression. Among those who describe themselves as keeping house, depression was lowest for those who performed 79.8 percent of housework. In contrast, for those employed full-time the minimum level of depression occurs at 45.8 percent of the household labor. Men report performing 42.3 percent of the housework in their homes compared to 68.1 percent reported by women. Thus, on average women are performing household labor beyond the point of maximum psychological benefit, whereas men are not. Social support mediates the effects of the division of household labor. The only gender difference in effects occurred among those who are married, for whom social support was associated with lower levels of depression for women than men.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Employment / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Status Indicators
  • Household Work*
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Marriage / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Regression Analysis
  • Social Support
  • Time Factors
  • United States / epidemiology