couple sharing childcare
Couples who share childcare have better quality relationships and sex, study finds. istock

Couples who divvy up childcare duties have higher quality sex lives and relationships compared to those where the women do all or most of the work involved in looking after children. In fact, a study of 487 heterosexual couples showed the childcare arrangement that is "really problematic" for the couple's relationship is where the women takes on most of the responsibilities.

Sociologists from Georgia State University presented their findings at the 110th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA). The study – The Division of Childcare, Sexual Intimacy, and Relationship Quality in Couples – used data from the 2006 Marital and Relationship Survey, with researchers grouping couples into three main categories: where women do most of the childcare (above 60%), where men did most or all of it, or where they split it pretty much evenly.

The researchers then looked at relationship quality by assessing relationship satisfaction and conflict, including things such as sexual frequency and quality of sex life. Daniel L Carlson, one of the study's authors, said: "One of the most important findings is that the only childcare arrangement that appears really problematic for the quality of both a couple's relationship and sex life is when the woman does most or all of the childcare."

The findings showed that in couples where this is the case, men and women reported lower quality relationships and sex lives. When men did all or most of the childcare, couples had as much sex as those who split the duties – although men in this group reported the lowest quality sex lives of all the groups. In contrast, women whose partners took on most of the childcare reported having the highest quality sex lives.

Carlson said the research was limited because no same-sex couples were studied and measures of child care were fairly narrow. "We only had one physical task, and that task revolved primarily around playing with the children – including sports and games – but nothing about who feeds or bathes them," Carlson said, adding that further research would be needed to understand why couples who split childcare had higher quality relationships. "We are trying to understand what it is about sharing that couple's view so positively," he said.