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Depression's Dirty Laundry

When the division of household laborgets you down.

Who cooks? Who cleans? Who takes care of the kids? The answers to these questions, according to a study published in the Journal of Family Psychology, may help determine whether married people are depressed or not. Marriage researchers and counselors have not looked enough at how the division of household labor, including the "emotional work" of caring and nurturing, affects husbands and wives, says Lyndall Strazdins, Ph.D., of Australian National University. Strazdins found that women who did most of the household tasks, including emotional work, were more likely to be depressed than those whose husbands shouldered some of the burden. Women were also depressed to the extent that they felt that the division of labor that would suit them—more time for themselves, perhaps, or more participation by their husbands in child care—would not be best for the family. Men, on the other hand, were depressed when their estimates of how much housework they did was greater than their spouse's estimate. And men and women were both depressed when their expectations about the division of labor before the wedding were proved wrong by married life. "The cultural emphasis on the family as the most important site of intimacy and emotional support creates very high expectations," says Strazdins. "Yet we rarely acknowledge that care, intimacy, and closeness require time and effort from somebody."