The division of labor and mental health outcomes at the couple level: Effects of equity or specialization

This paper studies the effect of the division of labor within households on husbands’ and wives’ depression. Economic theory argues that specialization enhances mental health, whereas other, more psychological theories argue that equity matters most for mentalhealth. We analyze two waves of the National Survey of Families and Households (N = 2,299). We use data on both spouses in a couple and we have detailed information on hours spent on domestic and paid labor. Using this more comprehensive design, we find clear evidence for the equity hypothesis, but hardly any support for the positive health effects of specialization. When the total number of hour spent on paid and domestic labor is more equally distributed between husband and wife, both report lower levels of depression.

Netspar, Network for Studies on Pensions, Aging and Retirement, is a thinktank and knowledge network. Netspar is dedicated to promoting a wider understanding of the economic and social implications of pensions, aging and retirement in the Netherlands and Europe.

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