Husbands better second time around

Many men in second marriages shape up in terms of housework, study shows.

Love is wonderful the second time around, as the song says. But the housework load for women is not necessarily lighter or shared more equally in second marriages.

New research reveals that many men in second marriages shape up, becoming the partners their first wives had probably wanted them to be. They share the domestic chores more equally with their second wife than they did with their first.

But for women in second marriages, the story is different - or rather it is the same old saga. They tend to carry an unchanged and unequal burden of domestic chores just as they had done the first time round.

"We find that second marriages are a bit more egalitarian - but only for men," said Anne Solaz, from the National Institute of Demographic Studies in Paris.

Dr Solaz was presenting her findings at a conference of the International Association for Time Use Research in Sydney.

The explanation lies in the different kinds of people men and women tend to marry the second time around. Men tend to marry women quite a bit younger than themselves, who have not been married before, without children.

"Maybe these younger second wives are asking the men to do more, and the men have to do more to compete with younger males," Dr Solaz said. "Maybe the men have learnt from the mistakes of their first marriage."

Women in second marriages, on the other hand, tend to bring the children with them and thus the same old workload. Their second husbands tend also to have been married before, are more similar in age to the women, and possibly bring their unreconstructed habits with them.

Dr Solaz's research was based on responses from 5000 couples in France, 1000 of them in second marriages. She examined who in the couple was mostly responsible for doing eight domestic chores, ranging from vacuuming to odd jobs in the garden. Answers ranged from "always me" to "always my partner" and included "equal" responsibility.

Dr Solaz found that women whose wages were higher than their husbands had more power on the home front with their partners doing more of the housework.

For the men with younger second wives, Dr Solaz said, "Beauty has its price. These men, too, were doing more housework."

For those stuck in the old ways, Dr Solaz has a word of warning. The couples said that division of housework, along with children's education, was the issue that caused the most arguments.

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