Sharing the pain and joy of child care with your spouse could pay off in the bedroom, a new study finds.
Moms and dads who split child-rearing duties down the middle have a lower level of couple conflict, higher overall couple satisfaction, and higher quality sexual relationships for both partners compared with their less-egalitarian peers, according to the report.
"When it comes to relationship satisfaction and couple conflict, the only arrangement that seems to be problematic is when the female is doing most or all of the work with the kids," said Dan Carlson, a sociologist at Georgia State University who led the study.
Women report the highest satisfaction with their marriage and sex life when their partners take on the majority of child care, the researchers found. However, that arrangement does not always work out best for the dad.
Men who do most of the work with the kids report having sex less frequently than men who split child care with their spouse more equally.
The research was based on data collected in 2006 from 487 straight couples from low-income and middle-class homes. It was presented this weekend at the American Sociological Assn.'s annual meeting.
Carlson and his colleagues were inspired to look at how the division of labor around child care affects relationships after reading a 2013 study published in the American Sociological Review. That study, based on data collected between 1992-94, suggested that traditional couples -- where the female partner does the majority of the work around the house -- have more sex than egalitarian couples.
The authors of the 2013 study make the argument that sexual turn-ons are fundamentally tied to traditional male and female roles. In other words, women are attracted to burly men who do yard work and are good breadwinners, and men are turned on by feminine caretakers.
"It was part of this canon of work using older data that suggested egalitarian couples divorce more and have lower-quality sex lives," Carlson said.
Because the data the study relied on were 20 years old, Carlson decided it was worth reexamining the question with a more contemporary data set.
"We thought this was worthy because of what we know about couples in the U.S. and what they want," he said. "Our culture has consistently moved toward the attitude that having an equal partnership is good and important, and that has increased over time."
The team found that the majority of the couples in the 2006 survey shared child-care tasks. Women reported sharing child care with their partner 73.4% of the time, while men reported sharing these duties 80% of the time.
They also report that the majority of couples surveyed were very satisfied in their relationships and reported little conflict.
It should be noted, however, that the findings in the study are general, and do not rule out that couples who have more traditional roles in their marriages and child-rearing practices are also sexually satisfied.
"What really drives all of this is if are you satisfied with your relationship," Carlson said. "For a vast majority of people, and especially young adults, an egalitarian relationship is what they want, but that's not to say that people who have more traditional divisions of labor will have a negative outcome."