Friday, July 6, 2007

Wives have greater power in marriage

Study finds wives have greater power in marriage problem-solving behavior

Men may still have more power in the workplace, but apparently women really are "the boss" at home. That's according to a new study by a team of Iowa State University researchers.
The study of 72 married couples from Iowa found that wives, on average, exhibit greater situational power -- in the form of domineering and dominant behaviors -- than their husbands during problem-solving discussions, regardless of who raised the topic. All of the couples in the sample were relatively happy in their marriages, with none in counseling at the time of the study.
Associate Professor of Psychology David Vogel and Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies Megan Murphy led the research. The ISU research team also included Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies Ronald Werner-Wilson, Professor of Psychology Carolyn Cutrona -- who is director of the Institute for Social and Behavioral Research at Iowa State -- and Joann Seeman, a graduate student in psychology. They authored a paper titled "Sex Differences in the Use of Demand and Withdraw Behavior in Marriage: Examining the Social Structure Hypothesis," which appeared in last month's issue of the Journal of Counseling Psychology -- a professional journal published by the American Psychological Association.
Wives have the marriage power
"The study at least suggests that the marriage is a place where women can exert some power," said Vogel. "Whether or not it's because of changing societal roles, we don't know. But they are, at least, taking responsibility and power in these relationships. So at least for relatively satisfied couples, women are able to take some responsibility and are able to exert some power -- but it's hard for us to say why that's so."
"Women are responsible for overseeing the relationship -- making sure the relationship runs, that everything gets done, and that everybody's happy," said Murphy, "And so, maybe some of that came out in our findings in terms of women domineering and dominating -- that they were taking more responsibility for the relationship, regardless of whose topic was being discussed."
The researchers solicited participation from married couples in and around the Iowa State campus. On average, spouses were around 33 years of age and had been married for seven years. Most participants were European Americans (66%), followed by Asian (22%), Hispanic (5%), and African-American (4%) -- with the final three percent representing other nationalities.
Each spouse was asked to independently complete a questionnaire on relationship satisfaction and an assessment of overall decision-making ability in the relationship. Each spouse also was asked to identify a problem in their relationship -- an issue in which he or she desired the most change and which could not be resolved without the spouse's cooperation. Spouses were then asked to answer some questions about their chosen topics, including the type of problem-solving behaviors that generally take place when this topic arises, and the importance of the topic. Couples were then brought together and asked to discuss each of the problem topics for 10 minutes apiece -- discussions that were videotaped. The researchers did not participate in the discussion.
"We actually just asked them to start talking about the issue, and then we left the room," said Vogel. "And so they were all by themselves in the room talking. We were as non-obtrusive as possible. We just came back at the end of the period of time, and asked them to talk about the other topic."
At the end of the discussions, couples were separated again. Each spouse was then debriefed and discussed his or her feelings and reactions to the study.
The researchers reviewed and coded the videotapes of couples' interactions using a widely-accepted interaction rating system. The system consists of five dimensions to calculate demand and withdraw behaviors -- avoidance, discussion, blame, pressure for change, and withdraws.
Not all talk and no action
The researchers concluded in their paper that wives behaviorally exhibited more domineering attempts and were more dominant -- i.e., more likely to have their partner give in -- than husbands during discussions of either spouse's topic. That refuted their initial premise that sex differences in marital power would favor husbands.
Vogel said that wives weren't simply talking more than their husbands in discussions, but actually were drawing favorable responses from their husbands to what they said.
"That's what I think was particularly interesting," he said. "It wasn't just that the women were bringing up issues that weren't being responded to, but that the men were actually going along with what they said. They (women) were communicating more powerful messages and men were responding to those messages by agreeing or giving in."
"There's been research that suggests that's a marker of a healthy marriage -- that men accept influence from their wives," said Murphy.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Couples Share Work/Household Chores Most Stable

'Traditional' Marriages Now Less Stable than Ones Where Couples Share Work and Household Chores -- By Lynn Prince Cooke

Let's face it: The road to happily-ever-after is pitted with potholes. Children, finances, and in-laws can all put stress on a marriage. But what about who cleans the floor? This matters, too. A survey released this week by the Pew Research Center shows that most Americans now regard sharing household chores as more vital to a good marriage than such traditional measures of marital success as having children. This does not mean couples are neglecting their kids. Indeed, both moms and dads are now spending more time with their children than in 1965, the heyday of the female homemaker.

But just having kids is no longer sufficiant for a marriage to last. As detailed in one study recently published in the American Journal of Sociology, and in my ongoing research about the relationship between housework and divorce, I find American couples that share employment and housework are less likely to divorce than couples where the husband does all the earning while the wife does all the cleaning. These findings starkly contrast with the claims of some that to turn back high rates of divorce, we should return to the male breadwinner family idealized during the 1950s and 60s in such television programs as "Father Knows Best" and "Leave it to Beaver."

One reason some people urge a return to male breadwinner marriages is that wives' employment is associated with greater risk of divorce. Among U.S. couples, however, I find this increase in divorce risk when the wife is employed is more than offset when a husband takes on an equitable share of the housework. So it is not women's employment that directly leads to divorce, but only the strain of her employment when she must still perform the housework alone as well. Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to follow couples marrying for the first time between 1985 and 1995, I found that couples where the wife earns about 40 percent of the income while the husband does about 40 percent of the housework have the lowest risk of divorce - considerably lower than the divorce risk in families where the husband earns all of the income and the wife does all of the housework. We have not yet realized perfect equality, however. The divorce risk begins to rise again when a wife starts earning as much or more than her husband and he does more of the housework. But this risk does not exceed that of male breadwinner marriages until the woman earns more than 80 percent of the couple's income. This means neither "Mr. Mom" nor "Father Knows Best" is a stable family scenario for American couples today.

Surprisingly, although either extreme is rare, "Mr. Mom" is more common now than "Father Knows Best." Less than 1 percent of the couples I studied reported the husband earns all of the money while the wife does all of the housework. In contrast, almost 3 percent of couples claimed that the husband does all the housework while the wife earns all the money. The vast majority of couples share responsibility for the family's financial security as well as the household maintenance. Indeed, a research paper issued this May by the Council on Contemporary Families reveals that each generation of men is doing more domestic work and childcare than the previous one. So couples appear to understand what many pundits do not. In today's world, it is give-and-take that makes marriage work. Returning to the days when marital tasks were divided and gendered would do the opposite of what proponents of "traditional" marriage believe; it would ring the death knell for modern American marriages.