Breaking the mold: a conversation with Kate Mangino on achieving gender equity at home

Feb 22, 2024

Silvia de Denaro Vieira & Kate Mangino

In a recent interview with Kate Mangino, gender equity expert and renowned author of Equal Partners, we covered everything from the impact of gender on how we do chores, to jaw-dropping equity statistics, and the urgent need for intentional conversations to break traditional roles. Mangino offers us practical tips for building equal partnerships and a roadmap to challenge societal norms and achieve genuine equity. Join us in this delightful conversation - no matter where you are in your journey, we guarantee you'll learn something new.

Kate, I’m so excited to talk with you today, I'm a huge fan of yours. You've spent a lot of time researching equity in the home for couples looking to build equitable partnerships. What are the most crucial moments in which we should be reexamining the balance and fairness at home and be having conversations about this?

Thank you for having me today. It's very exciting to have this conversation with you. Great question. I would say the earlier the better and it's never too late. A great time to start this conversation is when you're dating, when you're getting to know each other, when you're moving in together, certainly if you're making a long-term commitment.

I completely understand that it's not super sexy when you're first dating to have a conversation about household chores and gender norms. And sometimes people are hesitant to start that conversation because you might be scared of what you're gonna hear. However, if you can start early and come to an agreement early, then as you set patterns throughout your life, you can integrate equity into those patterns. 

When you move in together, you're obviously starting all over and making two lives one. So that is a time when change happens anyway and it's a great opportunity to go ahead and find ways to weave equity into new patterns. Certainly when a new baby joins - whether it's your first or your eighth - it's always going to disrupt patterns. But little changes, a new pet, moving to a new house or apartment, even if it's just down the road 10 minutes, changing jobs, when kids move from daycare to school - all of these little changes. I've interviewed teachers that said that every start of school, they had to sit down and reevaluate because over the summer, you would fall into these sort of lazy patterns and then had to start it up again on Labor Day. 

So no changes are too small, right? Think about all those little moments where you have to readjust patterns. Those are great opportunities to talk about equity.

I'm curious, you mentioned lazy patterns - what is it about moments of transitions that make us fall back into those patterns?

When we don't think about gender roles and equity in our household intentionally, we fall back into “default mode”. That’s when you're just on autopilot and you're not intentionally making decisions about equity, you're just sort of doing, right? When life gets busy, when work is busy, and kids are busy, pets are busy, and family's busy, you just fall back into these patterns. And we know that when people go into gender default mode, it's not equal, because you're just watching what your parents and grandparents and other friends and family members have probably role modeled to you. 

Oftentimes sociologists explain traditional gender divides in the home as outdoor and intermittent and indoor and routine. Outdoor intermittent chores are typically coded for men. That's lawn care, car maintenance, changing light bulbs, fix-it projects, and finances sometimes also fall into that category, even though that's not outdoor. These are things that need to be done maybe on the weekend or quarterly, and they typically are done outside the house. The good thing about those is if you miss one, it's not really the end of the world. If you don't mow the lawn on one weekend, you might annoy your neighbors, but it's not going to be catastrophic to your family. 

Whereas female-coded chores tend to be indoor and routine. Cooking, cleaning, childcare, homework, bathing, food preparation, food shopping, and those things are required every single day. You can skip one day, let the dishes pile up and order a pizza, but you can't really skip more than one day of washing children or feeding people or pet care, that you do have catastrophic outcomes when you stop doing those things. And the pressure of having everyday responsibility is far greater than having weekend or quarterly responsibility. 

Because we've divided our patterns this way over the past couple decades, we have a false sense of equality. Like, he has his chores, I have mine, we're equal. But just scratching the surface of that a little bit, you understand it's not equal. And actually what it does is it falls into a one-third, two-third pattern. So when I say you slip into “lazy patterns” or gender default mode, we tend to fall back into this one-third, two-thirds split. I haven't even talked about cognitive labor yet, that's just physical tasks. 

That's why I talk about the intentionality of new patterns during life changes. To get us thinking about whether we are falling back into these old patterns that we've seen role modeled to us from our parents, or are we intentionally doing something different?

That makes a lot of sense and, to your point, times of transition can be especially stressful so you just take the shortest path possible which is what you've been wired or socialized to do. 
A lot of my friends are either getting married or expecting a baby. And we don't talk about housework or division of labor in terms of routine, intermittent, outdoor, indoor, cognitive load, or physical load. I mean, I do sometimes because of my work, but in general, for the generation going through those big life transitions now, there's an assumption that this is a solved problem or it's not a problem for us. What do you say to that?

I agree with you. The catch-22 is that you don't get it until you're in the middle of it, and then you're like, ugh, it's too late. And so when those of us in our 30s, 40s, and 50s are in the middle of it, we are trying to talk to our younger kids and our nieces and nephews and cousins and say, talk about this now, because it becomes very real.

And this is not just about people in different sex relationships. We also see these patterns happening in same sex relationships and queer relationships. So no matter who your partner is in life, going into default and just doing what was role modeled to you can be a dangerous path towards inequity. And I agree with you that language has changed in many ways. 

For example, gender fluidity is something that is very, very important. Maybe someone in their 20s would be very comfortable with something that wasn't talked about in past generations. I've heard multiple people who identify as Gen Z who will say, oh, I'm a feminist and my partner's a feminist, so it's going to be okay. There's this assumption that because of our philosophies and our own personal theories, it's naturally going to transition into our actions. But what we've seen in data is that it doesn't. That there is a disconnect between people's beliefs and people's behaviors. 

Take it out of gender and look at the environment. People are all, you know, oh, of course, we have to address climate change and how important it is. But I still want to keep my air conditioning on, and I still want to drive an SUV, and I still want to fly to vacation in Bali, right? So our beliefs and our values and our actions oftentimes don't line up. And it's the same thing with gender, just because you might identify as a feminist, you believe in gender equality, that might not trickle down into our actions, which is why it's super important to have that intentionality and bring that language into your relationship.

Totally, and I read somewhere also that there's decades of data as well that kind of show that the trends are not, you know, as exciting as maybe we would have hoped for.

Yeah, exactly. And it's actually kind of scary. So we don't have a lot of data on cognitive load, unfortunately. This is something that we're just starting to collect now. But we can look at chore diaries that look at physical labor in the household. Sociologists have kept chore diaries since the 60s.

In the mid-60s, we had about an 85%-15% divide. And I will say that shore diaries are traditionally female-male partnerships. That's changing now, but that's the data we have. Women did about 85% of the household work, and men did about 15%. Probably doesn't surprise us, 1965. 

Fast forward to 1985, and that gap has gone down to 33% and 67%. What we've seen there also mirrors what was happening in the workforce. We had a huge female movement in the professional world, and we saw more men stepping up at home, and we saw a huge shift between ‘65 and ‘85. 

Since 1985 until now in 2024, we've only seen that change from 33% male participation to 35%. So it went from 33% to 35%, which is like barely anything, and it's been 25 years. So I sort of think of it as plateauing, that millennials really haven't made much progress, sorry to say, and from the early reports of Gen Z, we're not seeing a whole lot of transition either. So I think what that teaches us is that this problem isn't solving itself on its own, it is going to have to be intentional.

Those are some alarming stats. But in the new age of social media, there is so much information available to us with real life examples. And I think there are a lot of people thinking about this now and trying to learn the language. What are some practical tips you might share with couples intentionally building equal partnerships?

Think about what has to be done in your household to keep it going. Think about all the physical tasks and all the cognitive tasks. 

For example, a physical task would be making dinner. But we know that making dinner, especially when there's more than two people in the house, it's not just about the cooking and the serving. It's about anticipating: “What are we going to eat? What can I serve that everyone's going to eat? Am I being conscious of people's allergies and dietary restrictions? Do I have the ingredients in the house or do I have to stop at the grocery store on the way home from work? When am I going to find the time? Okay, my last call ends at five. I can do the prep and then I have to run someone to a piano lesson. I can come back and put it together.” 

There's so much thinking and anticipating that happens before you even start to cook a meal. And cognitive labor often falls on that person who's already doing two-thirds of the physical tasks. So when we say there's a one-third, two-third split, it's probably even further apart once you factor in all that cognitive labor. 

So when the two of you want to build an equal partnership, look at what's happening in your home, what needs to happen to keep that household running, and make the invisible visible. Name all of the processes that you're managing. Name all of the thinking and the anticipating and the evaluating and the researching. Then split that as best you can 50-50. So you're dividing physical tasks, but you're also dividing cognitive labor. 

What seems to work best for most of the couples that I've interviewed is to think about big genres or big chunks of work. So one person does food. Which means you're in charge of stocking the fridge and making dinner. However many nights a week you agree on it, that's yours. One person, laundry. So one person doesn't have to think about food, and the other person doesn't have to think about laundry. 

I know people that keep these patterns for their whole relationship, and I know people who switch every other year or every other month. They trade off and on food responsibilities, because that tends to be the biggest time suck in a relationship. Cleaning, pet care. If you have four kids, one parent monitors two and the other two more in terms of communications with daycares in schools. I know some people will have one person do all the dental appointments for the kids and another do all the doctor's appointments.

Find ways that you can split that cognitive labor so you both have equal ownership of processes. And I think that is a great way to get yourself started towards equity.

I love that. Thank you so much for spending this time with us. I really enjoyed talking with you. I am obsessed with your book, and thank you for all of the work that you do to help couples with reaching a new level of gender equality.

Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure.

This interview was conducted by Silvia Vieira, CEO & Co-Founder of Coexist. Coexist is an all-in-one home management platform helping busy couples around the world coordinate life at home together. Learn more at

Kate Mangino is a gender expert who works with international organizations to promote social change. She has written and delivered curricula in over 20 countries about issues such as: gender equality, women’s empowerment, healthy masculinity, HIV prevention, and early and forced childhood marriage. Mangino is a technical advisor and regular contributor to Fathering Together. Her writing can be found on Scary Mommy, Medium and Substack. Learn more about her work here: or follow her on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram.