Money may not buy love, but it might get some working wives a reprieve from the vacuum or overflowing laundry baskets.
A new University of Massachusetts Amherst study finds married women do about one less hour of housework per week for every $7,500 they earn as full-time workers outside the home, regardless of the husband's income.
Married women who work full time may be looking largely at their own salaries — not those of their husbands — when deciding which routine chores can or should get done in their home, says sociology researcher Sanjiv Gupta.
"I think many of us have this idea of a household in which we share the resources and plan together to divide the labor, but that may not be how it works," said Gupta, whose study was published recently in the Journal of Marriage and Family.
He hesitated, however, to speculate on why the wives' higher income translated into less time on housework and whether husbands, children or others are picking up the slack.
They reasons could include the financial freedom to hire a housekeeper; the time demands of some higher-paying jobs; different standards of tidiness; more outside activities and therefore less wear and tear to clean up in the house; or other factors.
Gupta's research compared data from two-income couples as reported in the National Survey of Family and Households, and removed what he considered the distorting factor of comparing a wife's housework level to her husband's income.
The data in Gupta's study factored in equal numbers of children and other specifics, leaving married women's full-time employment incomes as the main point of comparison, he said.
"The cause and effect of the statistical relationship is hard to determine, but it does seem that a woman's money is an important part of the equation," he said. "If you have your own money, you get to decide what to do with it."
Harriet Rogers of Northampton had a different theory Thursday when learning of the study: A busy workload means less time at home and therefore less time for housework, regardless of income.
"It's not about the paycheck for me and I'm guessing it never would be," said Rogers, who co-owns Skera Gallery and Cool Rides Taxi Service with her husband, Steve.
They once hired a housekeeper, she said, but reversed course after the woman broke the vacuum cleaner and polished the kitchen table so heavily that their napkins sprouted oily spots, she said.
"Income and housework don't have any connection at all in my mind," Rogers said.
Wendy Mazza, Northampton's city clerk, also did not see her life reflected in Gupta's study. She said she does as much housework as a $57,000-per-year city clerk as when she was a subordinate to earlier clerks, earning much less.
The key, she says, is the level of cleanliness she expects in her home and the neatnik tendencies she says her mother "drilled into" her from childhood.
"No matter how much money I make, nothing is going to change the responsibilities I have waiting for me at home," she said. "Even if I made $100,000 a year, I wouldn't change what I think needs to get done."