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Are couples in Europe becoming more gender-equal? This short statistical paper examines two specific aspects of the question: (i) the emerging trends in couples' earnings structures; and (ii) the extent to which more equal earnings relates to more equal domestic work contributions. Our analysis of recent trends (2007–2010), using the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC), indicated a continued majority of male sole- or main-earners, but also a decline in this gender imbalance over the three-year period. It is not yet known, however, whether this will ultimately be seen to have been driven by the economic crisis or to be part of a continuing trend towards more gender-equal couple earnings structures. Our empirical findings also addressed the tension between more gender-equal earnings that is expected to promote more gender-equal domestic work contributions and gender-role norms that perpetuate unequal domestic work contributions. We found that women spent much greater time in domestic work tasks than men, and that there is a relatively small difference in domestic work hours between men who contribute all most of the couple's earnings and men who contribute smaller proportions of the couple's earnings. In contrast, we found that women who contribute smaller proportions or none of the couple's earnings spent many more hours in domestic work tasks. These findings suggested an important factor that is likely to continue to act as a drag on change towards more equality within couples even in the presence of effective work/family reconciliation policies: a highly unequal gender division of labour in the home.

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This research was commissioned by the European Commission Directorate General for Justice and Fundamental Rights. The study was jointly undertaken by RAND Europe and the University of Groningen.

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