Working Paper

Marriage versus Cohabitation: How Specialization and Time Use Differ by Relationship Type

Published: 2023

Relationships have changed dramatically in the last fifty years. Fewer couples are marrying, more are
cohabiting (de facto). This shift may have broader consequences. The goal of this research was
to see whether there are more than legal differences between de facto and married couples.

Women entering de facto relationships do not increase their reported time on housework as much
as women entering marriages, though they do ‘make up the difference’ if they subsequently
transition into a marriage. Relationship status does not change men’s reported housework time.
There is also evidence that on average de facto couples engage in less specialization than
married couples. Couples are said to specialize in a task if they report that one partner usually or
always performs that task. Amongst the tasks examined are meal preparation, dish washing,
cleaning, food shopping, paying bills, and repair work. Not surprisingly, women are more likely to
specialize in the first four tasks, while men are more likely to specialize in the last. Bill paying is
less gendered, especially in de facto couples who are generally less certain about whether their
relationship will endure and hence presumably less willing to merge their finances. De facto
couples who marry report increased specialization. These results hold controlling for a broad
array of individual and household characteristics.

The results of this analysis suggest that persons in different types of relationships behave
differently. If they allocate their time differently within the household, married and de facto
couples may also make different decisions in the marketplace.


Centre Friend

Leslie S. Stratton


Stratton, Leslie S. (2023). ‘Marriage versus Cohabitation: How Specialization and Time Use Differ
by Relationship Type’, Life Course Centre Working Paper Series, 2023-07. Institute for Social
Science Research, The University of Queensland.