Comparative Advantages and Inequality in Marriage

Marriage isn’t equal and fair. It’s not about two people doing 50% of the work so it all gets done.

In many ways, my husband is better than I am. He can have more energy, and can work longer and harder than I can (particularly in physical things). He remembers to rotate laundry and he can work a full day and then be home and still clean up and do dishes.

It’s easy to compare and measure myself against my spouse. Sometimes I come out ahead: I am doing all the planning and organizing and making sure that things no one really notices get done. Sometimes I come out behind: I can get super distracted and unfocused, and my energy runs out earlier than the day does.

But we both have our strengths and weaknesses, and instead of worrying about fairness and equality, we both just need to jump in there, put in 100% effort, and then try to smartly divide who is doing what.

In economics, there is this concept called comparative advantage. Simply put, just because one person is better at doing something than another person doesn’t mean that they need to do that thing all the time. There are opportunity costs too–if I’m better at doing housework, and spend all my time doing housework, than I don’t have the opportunity to go to school or spend time with my children. And even though I may be better at both housework and playing Yahtzee at my kids than my husband, it’s better if we divide and conquer a bit more cleverly. If he doesn’t love playing games, then it makes more sense if he does the dishes and I play Yahtzee (and I ignore the fact that I don’t like how he loads bowls into the dishwasher).

If he is better at fixing up cars and he’s better at home renovation, he doesn’t need to do all of that. I can work on the home renovation even if I’m not as good doing it as he does, because that gives him time to do things that I can’t even fathom how to do.

As I’ve gone back to school, we’ve had to shift over responsibilities for a while. I was feeling particularly exhausted and realized that I was placing a lot more burdens on my shoulders than I needed to. I did not need to be solely in charge of the house, the children, and all my schoolwork. Since I go to school every day and Dillon works from home, it made more sense to shuffle things around. He is now in charge of rotating laundry, cleaning the bathroom every other week, and cooking about half the meals. And I don’t have to feel guilty that I’m not doing everything.

It can be really hard to divide up responsibilities right, but instead of aiming for fairness, just aim for works best for you in the season of life you are in. Keep adjusting as needed. Keep expectations low and try the best you can. And if certain things don’t get done, that’s okay. No one knows the last time you washed your bedding or dusted your lights fixtures, and it’s okay if it’s been a while.