The division of domestic labor has far-reaching implications for "private" life (e.g. relational satisfaction and conflict) and for "public" paid labor (e.g. time and dedication in the workplace and career advancement). Although several theories have been developed and tested, they do not sufficiently explain the consistent findings that women in mixed sex households perform a majority of the domestic labor. Without understanding the causes for differences in task performance, past research encouraging communicative solutions to ameliorate conflict was ineffective in changing task allocation and performance. Therefore, it is necessary to understand theoretical explanations that drive domestic labor behavior to develop effective solutions.
The recent integrative theory of the division of domestic labor attempts to explain how individuals interact with household partners to allocate domestic tasks. Recognizing the complexity of the division of domestic labor, the integrative theory considers individual, dyadic, and societal factors that influence task allocation. Because clear differences in task performance have been found in mixed sex households, this study separates sex and gender as distinct variables by considering same-sex roommate relationships, essentially removing sex differences from the living arrangement. Furthermore, this study considers individual threshold levels as described by the integrative theory in order to test the theoretical underpinnings. Specifically, this study is designed to investigate the relationships between individual cleanliness threshold levels and gender, sex, perceptions of satisfaction, equity, and frequency of conflict in same-sex roommate relationships.
Results indicate support of the integrative theory of the division of domestic labor. Regarding gender differences, partial support for the theory appeared in that feminine individuals have lower threshold levels than masculine individuals. Regarding sex differences, women possess lower individual threshold levels (i.e. more bothered when a task is undone) compared to men, which likely accounts for why existing research indicates that women spend more time performing domestic tasks.
What is more, individuals with higher threshold levels report greater relational satisfaction. Further, individuals whose threshold levels differ from their living partner report lower relational satisfaction and greater conflict frequency. Finally, in terms of equity, both overbenefited and underbenefited individuals experience more conflict than those who feel their relationship is equitable. These results provide theoretical support for the integrative theory of the division of labor.
Furthermore, the development and testing of a threshold measure scale can be used practically for future research and for better roommate pairings by universities. In addition, communication scholars, family practitioners and counselors, and universities can apply these theoretically grounded research findings to develop and test strategies to reduce conflict and increase relational satisfaction among roommates and couples.