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How working from home affects household gender roles, based on a new study

By Tara De Boer, writer

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    TORONTO (CTV Network) — While many may have adjusted to working from home since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, gender appears to play a role in who picks up more slack around the house while working from home.

A new peer-reviewed study published in the Personnel Psychology journal found that among dual-earning couples, both men and women completed more family-related tasks when working from home. However, when wives worked from home, husbands performed less housework. This was not the case for wives when their husbands worked from home.

“Our findings provide timely implications for practice on gender equality,” Jasmine Hu, lead author of the study and professor of management at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, told in an email on Tuesday.

“We controlled for pre-pandemic work-from-home status and whether work-from-home was a requirement or a choice and the results consistently revealed that remote work directly impacted dual-earner couples’ work and family experiences.”

Researchers at The Ohio State University conducted two studies on workers in China and South Korea to determine how work-from-home status affects both members in dual-earning couples.

The study participants, who included cis-gendered, heterosexual, dual-earning couples, filled out two surveys reporting their work-from-home status and the amount of work and family tasks they completed every day for 14 consecutive work days.

They also shared other useful information while navigating work-from-home life, such as conflict between work and family, how guilty they felt towards both their family members and work, and their psychological withdrawal from their workplaces and their families.

The first study was conducted near the start of the pandemic in mainland China and consisted of 172 married dual-earning couples with at least one child. The second study was conducted more than a year later, from June to August of 2021, and consisted of 60 dual-earning couples, some of whom had kids, while others did not.


The surveys revealed that when both parties worked from home, they completed more family-related tasks. However, when the wives worked from home, husbands performed fewer family tasks.

“We expected that employees’ work-from-home status, versus in office, would reduce spouses’ family task completion, but we only found such a crossover effect from wives to husbands,” said Hu.

The women in both studies were burdened with higher levels of guilt when they failed to complete house tasks or spend time with their families as a result of doing more work at the office – but the same findings showed up in just one of the two studies for men.

“When female employees work remotely—either by choice or by necessity—due to the pandemic, their gender stereotypes are more easily activated, increasing the pressure to consider their families’ needs and intensifying their family responsibilities,” said Hu. “We think it mirrors the traditional gendered expectation such that women versus men are more considerate of their spouses’ and families’ needs when they work from home.”

When the surveyed husbands had more flexible work schedules, wives still completed significantly more housework while working from home as opposed to from the office.

However, if the work arrangements for wives were less flexible, husbands completed significantly more housework and family tasks while working from home.

“Our findings show that for dual-earner couples, husbands can provide more resources and support for their wives to complete remote work tasks when they have flexibility in scheduling their work time,” said Hu.


In a study conducted by TravelPerk on global companies, the long-lasting effects of the pandemic on working are evident, with 76 per cent of companies shifting to a hybrid working model by 2022.

“As a landscape-scale crisis, the changes COVID-19 is inflicting on families could last for a long time, so we anticipate that the implications of our study findings may apply to the post-crisis times,” said Hu. “At least, for the foreseeable future, the COVID-19 crisis can dramatically change how employees work and how dual-earner couples fulfill work and family duties.”

She added that organizations and decision-makers might consider empowering their male employees with more work flexibility to allow them to better adapt to the crisis and restore a home-life balance.

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