Housework, paid work, and depression among husbands and wives

J Health Soc Behav. 1994 Jun;35(2):179-91.


The National Survey of Households and Families was used to test competing explanations of how the distribution of housework and paid work among couples affects depressive symptomatology. Considerations of equity predict that the fair distribution of labor across spouses will alleviate depression, while role theory predicts that the performance of multiple, engaging roles will inhibit depression, irrespective of equity across spouses. Results confirm that paid employment is associated with reduced depression among both husbands and wives until work hours exceed an upper threshold. However, time spent in housework is universally associated with increased depression, no matter what other role constellations exist. Little evidence supports the notion that equity in the division of labor (either paid or unpaid) inhibits depression, but perceptions of equity are significantly associated with lower levels of depression. In particular, husbands are strongly affected by perceived equity in the performance of paid work, while wives are strongly affected by perceived equity in the performance of housework.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Employment / psychology*
  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Household Work*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marriage / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Perception