Women in Singapore were less satisfied with their marriages – during and after the circuit breaker – according to a recent study by the National University of Singapore (NUS).
Researchers found that certain Covid-19 stressors– including household chores, financial burden, loss of jobs among others– were among the reasons for wives being unhappy in their marriages.
Singaporean Women Less Satisfied In Their Marriages
Dr Tan Poh Lin, an assistant professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, and her co-authors polled 290 married women with at least one child for the study.
Their study was presented virtually at the Population Association of America’s annual conference in May.
The women were also part of a larger group of 660 married women that Dr Tan has been interviewing since 2018. The interview was on the various aspects of their married life including sexual frequency and when they had babies.
Multiple Factors Led To Unhappy Marriages
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Researchers found that women were unhappy in their marriage, due to the pandemic. One of the reasons was added responsibility of housework.
The study examined the roles that husbands and wives had taken on at home during the Covid-19 pandemic last year. This was in terms of childcare and other housework as well as the difference in the time that each one spent on such household tasks.
Here’s what researchers found:
People either lost their jobs or had lower income amid the pandemic
Results showed that 5% of parents lost their jobs. About 30% of mothers and 40% of fathers who kept their jobs during this time saw their incomes shrink.
Mothers’ marital and life satisfaction fell significantly during and after the circuit breaker
From 7 April to 1 June 2020, all non-essential activities were halted and many had to work from home under the circuit breaker.
Before the pandemic, the mean marital satisfaction score of mothers was 3.9 on a five-point scale with five being very satisfied. But during and after the circuit breaker, the number fell to 3.6.
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The gender gap in terms of housework rose during the circuit breaker
Dr Tan suggests that women being unhappy in a marriage during this time could be because of how they had to shoulder more housework than their husbands.
Before the circuit breaker, women spent an average of 68 minutes a day on household chores. Meanwhile, their husbands would spend 43 minutes a day.
But during the circuit breaker, women spent 112 minutes doing housework, then 108 minutes after this period. While for men, it rose to 63 minutes during the circuit breaker, then 66 minutes after.
Although, there could have also been other contributions to why their satisfaction fell. This may include conflicts arising from work-from-home arrangements and the uncertainty brought about by the pandemic.
Since people had to spend more time being cooped up at home during and after the circuit breaker, Dr Tans says more housework had to be done.
“This created an increase in the gender gap as women did most of this extra housework, largely because housework is generally considered ‘women’s work’,” she adds.
The gender gap in childcare narrowed during and after the circuit breaker
This was seen in families where at least one spouse earns $4,000 or more.
From 125 minutes before the pandemic, the time shrank to 108 minutes during the circuit breaker. Then it shrank even lower to 79 minutes after the period.
Dr Tan explains that even though childcare is mostly expected to be done by women, their husbands are generally more willing to help out. It could be because of how rewards and meaningful it feels.
Dissatisfaction In Marriage Can Be Avoided If Couples Discuss How To Respond To Family Circumstances
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Dr Tan also notes that the study is not representative of Singapore’s population of married women. Although, it is still noteworthy since it tracks the same set of respondents before, during and after the circuit breaker. Meanwhile, other studies do not.
Men, however, were not interviewed for this study due to budgetary constraints. Data on how they spent their time and other factors were only collected from their wives.
“As the Government continues to encourage employers to offer flexible work arrangements and fathers to contribute more to child rearing, it is important to take note that the widespread shift to telecommuting coincided with a disproportionate rise in housework burdens on women,” says Dr Tan.
Sociologist Tan Ern Ser, told The Straits Times, “In this whole debate on housework, we need to consider a range of factors, and not just who is doing more or less. Couples do need to make rational decisions on how best to respond to their family circumstances.”
Increase in unpaid labour for women was more burdensome
Head of research and advocacy at the Association of Women for Action and Research, Ms Shailey Hingorani also shared some insights. She noted that the increase of unpaid labour for women during the pandemic took a toll on their mental and physical health.
She added, “The finding that women’s marital and life satisfaction has dipped does not bode well for these women’s spouses, children and other family members.”
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