To examine how changes in wives’ and husbands’ health influenced housework time and domestic outsourcing in retired couples.
We estimated fixed-effects models to test hypotheses about the gendered influence of health declines on absolute and relative measures of time spent on routine and nonroutine housework as well as the probability of outsourcing housework. The data were obtained from 23 waves of the German Socio-Economic Panel Study, comprising N = 25,119 annual observations of N = 3,889 retired couples aged 60–85 years.
Wives’ and husbands’ housework time declined with health status, but these effects were large only for serious health problems. We found evidence for within-couple compensation of spouses’ health declines, a mechanism that was limited to indispensable tasks of routine housework. The probability of getting paid help from outside the household increased with declining health, and this increase was more strongly tied to wives’ health declines than to husbands’ health declines.
The results demonstrate the relevance of health status for the performance of housework in retired couples. The evidence attests to the resilience of couples during later-life stages in which health issues may severely inhibit domestic productivity.