Gender Roles in Marriage

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Gender Roles in Marriage

Group members: Heidi Boon, Kathryn Droege, Icie Herr, Kristen Jones, and Mark Osborne

Soci 30


Gender roles play a major role in today's society and have throughout our history. They determined whether a woman in colonial times would be allowed out of her own house without her husband beside her. They were also a major issue as to whether women should be able to join the workforce. Gender roles decided who did the dishes and who mowed the lawn. Throughout history, gender roles, either imposed by society or created within the home, have altered dynamics within the home and society.

However, gender roles have changed throughout time. Gender roles are the behaviors, attitudes, values and other things that a particular culture considers appropriate for males and females. Thanks to women's rights movements and other movements, gender roles have adapted over time. These traditional gender roles apply to married life and marriage in general, which is why it is so important to study. Gender roles, in effect, play a major role in the quality of a marriage and how people want their ideal marriage to be. There are egalitarian marriages, where everything is equal and there are traditional marriages, where the husband takes on the role as breadwinner and the wife fulfills the role of homemaker and does not do work outside of the home.

These gender roles in marriage are the focus of our research project. The main purpose of our project is to see how college age people in today’s society view gender roles in marriage and to then compare those views to their background, to see if they were raised with these values or acquired them later on. We also want to see how these varying gender roles affect what the individual person believes their marriage will be like.

We expect our study to make a small contribution to the overall picture of what effect gender roles have on the quality of marriage. Since our project is based in a small university community, our information is very limited and does not represent the entire population as a whole. However, we expect our study to help broaden views on gender roles, especially as to how they affect, not only marriage, but day-to-day life in general.

Research on Gender Roles

A gender role is a set of expectations that decide how females or males should think, act, or feel. We will now explore the effects of gender roles in marriage in the past and present by summarizing research on various structures of marriage and their effects. Research completed on the formation of gender can also be used to examine the formation of gender roles within a marriage. The Evolutionary Psychology Theory of Gender says that differing roles in reproduction places different pressures on males and females, which creates gender roles as the man being the more competitive and violent figure, while the women being more involved in nurturing activities. (4) The Social Role Theory of Gender says that gender roles are formed by psychological gender differences caused by contrasting social roles of women and men. (4) The Social Cognitive Theory of gender states that children's gender development occurs through observation and imitation of gender behavior. (4) While our conclusions will not be based on these theories but on the interviewee’s family, religious, and educational background, these theories do help explain the formation and change of gender roles across time.

Classification of Marriage types

When interpreting our data, it is important to study the different family types in society today and the roles within those types. Green (1995) categorizes families into 3 types: traditional home-maker/breadwinner type, middle type, and egalitarian type. Traditional home-maker/breadwinner type is a household in which the husband only works and his wife runs the home. The mixed type is a household in which the wife's work is less absorbing than the husband's, and therefore, she takes on more of the household tasks and looks after the children. In an egalitarian type household, both male and female partners have equally absorbing work; household tasks and looking after the children are shared equally.

In their study on marriage, Irene Hardill, Anna C. Dudleson, Anne E. Green, and David W. Owen, used the following characteristics to classify the marriage of the couples they studied: level of commitment of each partner to the labor market, occupation and hours worked by each partner, domestic responsibilities of each partner including childcare, lead and follower careers, and the attitudes and words of the informants. (5) They studied 30 dual-career, educated households in Great Britain. 17 households fell into the middle category and 13 into egalitarian marriages. It is important when classifying a couple as egalitarian to note the strength of their egalitarian tendencies, because these frequently vary. In two-thirds of the households, the male had the lead career; the remaining third is divided between more weight on the woman's career and equal weighting. This study also found that egalitarianism in decision making is affected by factors other than the economic status of the female partner. The factors include: age of partners, stage in life-cycle (presence of children), type of job held by each partner, and who has the leading career. Information from the previously stated study on women's choice between career and family is applicable in this case, because women who choose to have a career have fewer children and a better job, all of which are factors which contributed to egalitarian relationships in the English study. (5)

Another study completed by Darla R. Botkin updated a longitudinal study of marriage role expectations begun in 1961. (2) This study compares female college student's marriage role expectations from 1961, 1972, 1978, 1984, 1990, and 1996. Researchers examined the female's traditional versus egalitarian expectations overall, as well as the seven subscales of authority: homemaking, child care, personal characteristics, social participation, education, and employment. Significant changes toward egalitarian expectations were found from 1961 to 1972, but from 1972 to 1978 the only significant changes were on the subscales of authority, homemaking, and childcare with no significant changes in expectations or subscales since 1978. The 1984 group was actually a little more traditional than the 1978 group in their ideals. This study concluded that since the 1970s changes toward more egalitarian marriage role expectations have reached a plateau and there has been no significant movement in either a more egalitarian or a more traditional direction. One interesting discovery of this study was the finding that the child care expectations reached a peak during the late 1980s and 1990s, leading researchers to believe that women were coming to a realization that husbands are not assuming equal responsibility for child care. (2)

A Brief History of Change in Marriage Roles in the United States

Throughout the history of the United State’s families, there is evidence of shifts in the spectrum of gender roles. In the years before the civil war, the notion of separate spheres emerged, a very traditional style of families. With the industrial revolution and modernization, the family structure was no longer a single unit working together in an agrarian community for survival, instead the man went to work and the women stayed home to take care of the children. The ideas that the woman’s place was in the home and the glorification of a very traditional role for the woman emerged in this era. Women were celebrated as being pure and submissive while the man’s role was a more aggressive, greedy, competitive one. It is important to note that separate spheres were not the ideal for everyone, but it was a common belief during this period. (7)

The 1920’s marked the first sexual revolution with women becoming more concerned with individuality and more women entering the workplace during the wartime society. The flappers were the symbol of the independent woman. The beginning of the great depression ended this era as these women were seen as taking jobs away from unemployed men. Women also gained the right to vote in this decade, an important gain for the women’s right’s movement. After the Great Depression and World War II, the decade of the 1950’s was a movement back to conformity and very traditional dynamics for gender roles. The economic climate of the country allowed for the women to return to the home and take care of the children. The mood of the country was one of celebration and hope after the wars, but was also one of conformity during the Cold War. The 1960’s and 1970’s marked another period of desire for individualism and women’s rights. In the most recent decades, we have not seen an extreme gain in desires for egalitarian marriages compared to the 1970’s. But the age of marriage has been rising, noting a desire for education and a career from women especially. (7)

Examples of These Marriage Forms

Burr and Sarah Harrison and Robert and Betty Conrad in Brenda Stevenson's Life in Black and White lived the perfect example of a traditional marriage. Burr worked a great deal out of the home as an attorney, planter, and politician. He was often gone for long periods of time, leaving Sarah to complete all of the household tasks. She was expected to fulfill her husband’s needs, be the primary caregiver for her eight children, oversee the work of the household servants, which included training them in their tasks and tend to her parents in their old age. Through Sarah's letters to family and friends, we know she was depleted in every way. Sarah actually died fairly young, most likely because of her extremely high stress level. In this time, it was actually the woman's responsibility to stay healthy and strong in order to fulfill her domestic roles. (8)

Both of these wives were completely submissive to their husband's wishes. Robert Conrad was frequently out of town, but would write to his wife Betty to tell her what household chores she needed to complete. He would also write what was expected of her as both his wife and their children's mother. Robert also expected Betty to write him consistently, even when she was busy with a newborn child. A further example of Robert's complete authority was exhibited when he offered his friend's son the opportunity to live at his house, without asking his wife's permission. These women were expected to submit to their husbands in every way. (8)

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, Sandra Bem and her husband had the most extreme egalitarian marriage. She wanted an egalitarian marriage because “the existing forms provided by our social world would not allow us to live the lives we wanted to live or be the people we thought ourselves to be.”(1) In order to ensure their marriage was completely egalitarian, Bem and her husband would do “the roommate test.” They wanted all chores to be divided up the same way as they would be if two women or two men were living together. Many egalitarian marriages tend to end once children are brought into the picture, but the Bems were determined to keep everything split equally. Sandra Bem thought about not breastfeeding her child because it would give her a better chance to bond with the baby then her husband. Her husband would also bring the baby in whenever she needed to be fed at night, and then put her back to bed after she was done. Also, they had a system where the “parent on duty” would switch every week. This parent would be in charge of anything involving the children, who refused one parent more authority then the other. (1) The Bems are the ultimate example of egalitarianism, while the families in Life in Black and White are examples of more traditional marriages.

The Impact of a woman's career on Structure of marriage

Whether or not the woman actively pursues a career has an effect on roles in marriage and also decisions to marry. Florence L. Denmark addresses this in her study, “The Thirty-Something Woman: to career or not to career.” (3) Today women have the same career opportunities as men, thus the woman must make the decision between pursing a career or family. Women who pursue a career often have less time for relationships and family. This is especially true for “front-loaded” careers, careers such as law and medicine which require many additional years of education out of school. Some of these women have spent so much time on their education that they have not entered a long term relationship leading to marriage. Another factor is their biological clock; once women get to a point in their career where they have the time for family, it is often too late. If they do choose to have both a career and family, they receive little empathy from bosses leading to stresses. Men do not face the same choice because they are not expected to be the primary caretaker. (3)

Women face conflicting desires to be successful, but also to have a family. Factors that may influence their decision include their job satisfaction and personality characteristics. The woman's decision to have a career has an impact, not only on the structure of the marriage, but also the size of the family. This study found that as the woman's wages increase, the number of children decrease. This shows that in the family structure, women do not feel that it is possible to be a caretaker of a large family and also have a successful career, leading many women to make a choice between the two. In relationship where there are fewer children, housework and childcare will not be as large of a burden or issue. (3)

While this study focused on single women, it can also be applied to married women and the agency they wish to exhibit in their marriage. Many women still want to have a career either in addition to family or solely. The fact that women have more opportunities and agency in their role is leading to more demands on their part for equal relationships. Many feel that if women are regarded as equals in the workplace, why aren't they regarded as equals in the home also?

Men's Role in Marriage

This study focused mainly on the effects of gender roles and society on women, but what about the men? In the model family of the 1950s, the man was the sole breadwinner. Today only 9.8% of the population is married couples with children where the husband is the sole breadwinner. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1985) Families where both parents work are more common today. The study “New Father Roles” by Ronald F. Levant discusses change in the father's roles and also presents both arguments on if a change has occurred. The depiction of men as more compassionate and nurturing in advertising is evidence for a change in the previous stereotypes of fathers as aggressive. The second example of change is increased desire for and evidence of flexibility in the man's work schedule so that he can be at home more. The third example is resistance by males to job relocation. (6)

Evidence against the new father role reveals that the man's role in the home has not changed much since the 1950's. The woman is still doing the majority of the housework. While men's participation has increased, their contribution to family work is still only a third of their wives. (6)

Our research reveals that gender roles in marriage have been changing across time. Due to more women in the workplace and other social changes, people have desired more egalitarian relationships since the 1960s. But our research also reveals that while women often have a career, it is very stressful for them to have both a career and marriage. Women are still doing the majority of the housework in the home despite more opportunities for careers.

Research Questions/Hypothesis
Through our research we wanted to determine what underlying factors affect the way people view gender roles in marriage, or how these factors play out in actual marriages. We wanted to find out if there are any characteristics in a person’s life that can cause them to strive towards either a traditional, egalitarian, or a marriage style that includes a mix of the two. Some of the main characteristics or themes that we will be studying include religious background, educational goals/attainment, and family background. We want to determine if these elements of social capital affect how single men and women view expected gender roles, and to see if married people are actually living out these roles due to these aforementioned elements. As a group, we hypothesized that at least one of, or a combination of more than one of these factors, will have a distinct affect on how people view gender roles in marriage. After completing our research, we may find that there are some other factors that determine perceived gender roles in marriage, or we may find that there is no correlation between how a person is socialized and how they expect gender roles to play out in their own marriages. Finally, we also want to study the differences in perceived and current gender roles of single and married people, and the differences by gender.

Summary of Research Questions:

  • Does religious background have an effect on perceived gender roles in single and married people?

  • Does educational attainment have an effect on perceived gender roles in single and married people?

  • Does family background have an effect on gender roles?

  • Are there distinct patterns of perceived gender roles between males and females?

  • Are there any noticeable differences between the perceived gender roles in marriage of single people, and actual gender roles being played out in married couples lives?

Data and Methods

Our interviewees were fairly easy to find, we asked around to find people that were married, engaged and single. Married and engaged were a little harder to find since the population on a college campus is so young. It was similar to a snowball effect sampling strategy, where you find one person and hopefully from them are able to find more people that you can interview.

Some of the characteristics we were looking for in our sample was a college aged population, about eighteen to early twenties, since these people were deciding on a marriage partner or were in the early stages of marriage. We used both males and females in our sample. We used people that were married, engaged, and single in order to capture the changing ideals of marriage as relationships progress. Our entire sample was heterosexual; even though we did not specify that we were only looking for these couples it did make it easier because we studied traditional marriages a lot, which apply to heterosexual couples almost exclusively.

Once we had found our interviewee we contacted them and set up a meeting time. About half of our interviews were done in person and about half of them were done over the internet using instant messenger. Private meeting places, such as someone's room or a study lounge, were most common because it is easy to record since there is less noise and the interviewee was usually more comfortable speaking in a private place. Most of the interviews took place in the later part of the day, after class when everyone is more relaxed and finished with the hard part of their day. The level of structure of the interview varied depending on how open the person was to talk and how relevant the information was to the interview. We had several probes already lined up, but occasionally we would add our own to help an interviewee build on a topic that they were speaking about. Sometimes we would cut out some probes that were not relevant to the particular interview.

To analyze our results we all met after our first interview to read over and discuss our interviews. We picked out a few themes like, education, religion, and family background that we saw in several interviews. We then went and did our second interview, coded our first and second interviews, and met again. This time we looked at the interviews and found that there was a distribution among the interviewees that wanted traditional, mixed and egalitarian relationships. We broke the analysis down in to these three parts and analyzed each part and what factors caused our interviewees to lean toward this marriage type.

. Traditional Findings

As was mentioned, our three main themes in this research are education, family background, and religion. Education refers to the amount, or degree of schooling that the interviewees had attained in their lives. Family background will be defined in this study as characteristics of parents and siblings, and refers to what the interviewee observed in his/her childhood as far as gender roles are concerned. Religion is characterized as what type of religion the interviewee classified themselves to be, and to what degree they consider themselves as being religious.
The organization of this section will be broken down into three types of marriage structures. These structures are classified as traditional, egalitarian, and a third category that includes a mix of these two. We will define and look at each marriage type and analyze which of our three major themes of religion, family background, and education may have an affect on what type of marriage an individual may want to attain in their life.
A traditional marriage can be defined as one in which the husband is the sole financial provider, and can sustain enough income to allow the wife to stay at home and provide the domestic needs of the family, such as housework, and raising children. This type of marriage was common in the United States through much of the first half of the twentieth century. Many of the marriages in Life in Black and White, written by Brenda Stevenson, can be characterized as being traditional style marriages.
Out of the ten interviews that our group conducted, we determined that two out of the ten respondents classified themselves as wanting a traditional marriage. The first subject that classified themselves as wanting a traditional marriage was a twenty-six year old, married female. This person classified herself as being very religious, and noted that her father was a Baptist minister. She had also attained at least some level of a college education. She also noted in the interview that she considered her parents marriage as an egalitarian one. Both of her parents worked and shared the duties of household chores, and the raising of children. The second subject that wanted to achieve a traditional marriage was a twenty-year-old, engaged male. Like the first respondent, this person considered himself to be very religious, and was pursuing a college education. When referring to his religious beliefs he stated, “I guess I would be considered as extreme; I consider my faith extremely important to my life.” However, this person characterized his parents’ marriage to be very traditional in nature.
These two respondents were classified as seeking a traditional marriage primarily from their ideas of the husband being the primary financial provider, and the wife staying at home and performing much of the domestic work. The female respondent referred to this idea by saying, “I think the husband should definitely work, and if financially possible, the mother should stay at home with the children.” However, both respondents stated that they believed that their marriages should involve an equal partnership, as far as having equal respect for one another, and in the sharing of childrearing duties. One of the unexpected findings that was uncovered was that both of these respondents believed that a true traditional marriage would only be achieved after several years of marriage, and not right away. The married woman said that her marriage was not currently a traditional one, as her husband was a working student and she also held a job. Similarly the engaged male stated that he believed their marriage would start off with both he and his wife working, and sharing the roles of housework, but as soon as he was able to financially provide for the both of them, he would insist that his wife stay at home to raise the kids and take over the majority of the household duties. As society in general continues to move from traditional to egalitarian marriages, it seems according to these findings that inside a marriage, just the opposite is occurring with traditional marriages; they are starting out as being more egalitarian and through time are being developed into more traditional style marriages.

The perceived and attained gender roles concerning traditional marriage are similar in the fact that the main desire is for the husband to be the sole financial provider, while the wife is the primary caregiver and homemaker. While this study is at fault due to a low sample number, it is relevant that both of these respondents considered religion and education to be important matters in their lives. The influence of the parents’ marriage type may also have an important effect on their children’s idea of attaining a traditional marriage, but we found conflicting results of this in our study.

Mixed Findings: Traditional and Egalitarian

From our interviews, we found five people who would want a mix of egalitarian and traditional characteristics in their future marriage. To clarify, we call a “mix” marriage where a person would want traditional roles in their marriage but somehow have them equal as well. For example, having the husband still be the head of the house and still be the breadwinner, but have equal roles with the housework, and let the wife be able to work outside the home. One person interviewed said:

“I'm kind of a mix…I think that, you know, we're going to share the load because to live in the world that we live in, it's going to take two incomes unless he's making a whole lot more money.”

However, children did seem to play a major factor in whether a person was simply traditional or egalitarian. The people we interviewed wanted the husband and wife to have equal share in raising the children, thereby making them clarify themselves as mixed. The woman, in this situation, wanted to be able to stay at home with the children during the early years of their life (up until they are of school age), then go back to work:

“…at some point I would like to stay at home if we have children. Um, my mom stayed at home with me and my brother till both of us got into preschool or kindergarten and um it's important that the first, the early years of my children's lives I would like to stay at home with them.”

However, we also found with the people we classified as “mixed” that they wanted their marriage to start out mixed, turn to traditional when kids came into the picture, then switch back to a mixed marriage when the kids were of school age.

The themes we have analyzed with each different type of marriage, (education, religion, and family background) made many new ideas come to life for this type of marriage. For education, all of the five people we classified as “mixed” had educational goals they wanted to obtain before marriage. One person we interviewed saw education as the deciding factor as to what the ideal age of marriage was. When asked the question of what the ideal age is for marriage, she responded that twenty-three or older was the ideal age range (post-college age) because “children should not have children.” This same woman and others say their educational goals were to graduate college and to be “self-sufficient” before they ever got married.

Career goals played a part in what someone's ideals of marriage were; this branched off of the education factor in our research. After being asked, “does education play a big role as to what is the best age to get married?”, one woman replied:

“I do, and I think it matters what are your career goals are. I think that there are a lot of factors that go into deciding whether to get married or not at a certain age. If you graduate from high school and you got a good paying job and you're doing well, and there's not extenuating circumstances as to why you shouldn't get married, then that's one thing. But, as a student, I know that my boyfriend and I can't get married until after we get out of school because we are still dependent on our parents to pay for our tuition and things like that and we couldn't take those burdens on our own and still continue to go to school.”

Another person responded to this question saying “I would like to have my first bachelor's degree and the beginnings for a career.” So, in a way, education was a big theme of the mixed marriage life. The people we interviewed believed that they and their spouse have to have some sort of education in order for their marriage to work.

Another theme, religion, came out in this type of marriage. All five people we classified as mixed considered themselves very religious, meaning they went to church and did church activities many times during a regular week. Religion in this marriage type was seen as a restricting factor. When we say restricting factor, we mean that it was the theme that prevented them from wanting a straight traditional or egalitarian marriage. This was surprising, in that we at first thought that strong religious people would want to have a marriage based on the husband being the head of the household, as the Bible says. One person interviewed disproved us when she responded to our question as to would she see an equal partnership in marriage as ideal or possible:

“They type of equal partnership that I see is what the Word says is that the husband should be the head of the house. I think the husband should always be the head of the house. That doesn't mean that the woman has to be completely submissive to him. I think that means that whenever a person gets married, I expect us to be one body. So that means that whatever I wouldn't want done to myself, I won't want that to be done to my husband…so I think in a way yes the husband has to be the head of the house and the woman has to be a partner that supports him, but also equal roles in the marriage and just sharing the load and commitment.”

Here our religion theme was very apparent as to what we defined as a mixed marriage. The term “one body” really stuck out in this interview, since in the Bible, it talks of being one body in Christ. Religion was the deciding factor as to what she wanted in a marriage.

Religion was also a key as to what type of person someone wanted to marry. One person interviewed said “I want to marry a Christian…I want it to be a friendship as well as a partnership.” So religion did come out as a restricting and definitive theme within the five people we interviewed. All five wanted to marry someone who had the same or similar faith to them.

Our final theme, family background, was one that became complicated at first, since everybody that was interviewed had differing backgrounds. However, we could conclude that the parents of the people classified as mixed had an influence as to what they wanted in their marriage.

If the interviewee’s parents were divorced, that person wanted to learn from their parents’ mistakes. For example, if their parents had a traditional marriage that ended in divorce, they wanted to have a better marriage by not having a traditional marriage, but have a marriage where the responsibilities were mixed between the couple. One woman, whose parents were divorced and had remarried, illustrated this point. Her parents had a traditional marriage, now, with her two new sets of parents, both sets have become more of a mixed, and in some cases, a “flip-flop” marriage of what is considered normal:

“With my dad’s family, with my step-mom, its actually the flip flop. He actually does a whole lot more with my half-sisters, um, than my step-mom does because she…she works and he works but as far as who gets up to take care of the kids, when they’re sick at night, or who sits up all night with them when they don’t feel well, my dad does a lot of that”
As a result of her parent’s failed marriage, this woman wants her marriage to be more mixed so as to prevent a divorce from happening.

If an interviewee’s parents were still married, the people interviewed seemed to want to emulate their parents because they had had a mixed marriage and it seemed to still be working. People interviewed also saw this as a stable form of marriage because it had worked for their parents. When asked did they think that their views would be different if there was not defined gender roles in their parents marriage, one person responded “I think if I had seen it a different way and it had worked out then I might have a little bit different view.” The same person when asked would defined gender roles make their marriage work better said “I think so, I mean it worked well in my parents marriage, so I think it will probably work well for me too.”

So, in our five mixed people’s interviews, it seemed that their parents’ marriage had a huge impact on what their views were on the ideal marriage type. If they saw that their parents’ marriage was stable, they tended to lean towards the marriage type their parents had. However, if their parents’ marriage failed, they tended to want to learn from their parents’ mistakes and try something different.

Our themes of education, religion, and family background were seen a great deal in the five interviews we classified as mixed. Education was the one theme that the interviewees wanted to have first before marriage. Religion was seen as a restricting factor but also a deciding factor as to who they wanted to marry and how their marriage was going to be. Finally, family background, particularly their parents’ marriages helped verify if the type of marriage they wanted was one that would work or not.

Egalitarian Marriage

Egalitarian marriage is described as a marriage where both partners share equally the responsibilities of the home and children. An alternate definition given to us by one of our participant is “Equal partnership between the two they split finances, time with kids, housework, but still have time for each other.” Egalitarian marriages are often thought of as a more “liberal” marriage style that is less centered around religion, and more associated with women's education. One example of this marriage style that was found in the reading is an example of a family named the Bems who were one of the first egalitarian families to publish their story. This family was considered very liberal when they published their story. They discussed how they often walked around nude, replaced male characters with female characters in their children's story books, and were very open to all sexual orientations and questions about sexuality from their children. This is possibly one reason why egalitarian marriage is thought of as so liberal. However we think that some of the characteristics that made this family so unique were their outlook on sexuality, which is not included in the definition of egalitarian and can be removed from the list of characteristics of this marriage style.

When asking our interviewees what marriage type was ideal for them we had a mix if responses. For egalitarian marriage we had one male that said he would prefer it, this makes up 33% of our male interviewees. We had one female who said she would consider this marriage type ideal, and another female who was undecided but leaned strongly toward egalitarian marriage, this makes up almost 25% of our female interviewees. Overall about 30% of our interviewees said that an egalitarian marriage was ideal for them.

There were many differences among the individuals who chose egalitarian marriage, but there were also some key similarities. All of these interviewees were single, were in the eighteen to nineteen year age range. All had parents that were still married. They all thought that the ideal age for marriage was late 20's to early 30's. These are some of the major similarities that we found in their interviews, which will hopefully be helpful in finding some reasons why they chose egalitarian marriage, and who is more prone to have an egalitarian marriage in the future.

One major theme that was found in all or our interviews was education and how it related to women's roles in marriage, as well as men's roles and age of first marriage. We are talking about formal education such as college and graduate school. The two females that classified themselves as wanting an egalitarian marriage both had educational goals that they would like to achieve before they are married. One cited her undergraduate degree as a reason for delaying her marriage, the other cited graduate school as a reason for delaying her marriage. The male did not cite any educational goals that would postpone his marriage till later in life, he cited personal development as his reason, “I guess just personal growth, I just don’t think I really know who I am or have developed in to what I want to be.” The female that was strictly egalitarian wanted to finish school first because it would help her to make a living, the other did not say why she wanted an education before marriage. Women's education is a key to egalitarian marriage because it often puts the woman on the same level as the men financially, also women do not want to give up a job that they have worked very hard to get, in order to take care of the home and the children. This will cause women to spend less time in the home and force the man to take more responsibilities around the house and with the children. It would be very hard to have an egalitarian marriage if one of the partners were to stay at home all the time with children, but since that is not longer the norm should marriage change too? Women's education is a more recent social adjustment and marriage is trying to adapt to this new influence, egalitarian marriage is one of those adjustments.

Finances were also a theme brought up several times by our interviewees. The strictly egalitarian female stressed the need to be financially self sufficient before marriage, and even guessed that she maybe making more money than her husband. The other female was unsure as to who would make more money. The male was apathetic about who would earn more money. An egalitarian marriage seems as if it would cause men to put aside some of their stereotypical macho feelings and let women take over part of the professional work force, and some of the finances. To do this, men either need to be educated and understand that women are their equal financial partners or be apathetic to the situation. Women see money as a way to gain independence which they will carry in to their marriage and will make them more confident, and a stronger force in the home, “I don’t know (who will make more money) we would both be successful. Probably, probably me because I know I have the drive to make something of myself and I don’t know who my husband is yet so I don’t know if he can match that.” This role of women's independence is a cause/effect of egalitarian marriage and looks like it will help perpetuate egalitarian marriage if mothers begin to teach it to their daughters (and sons).

Family and family structure can be a big factor in children's lives and futures, including their marriage. All three of our interviewees had parents that were still married. I think that if parents are still married it gives the children more freedom to “experiment” with marriage, on the other hand if parents are divorced children may shy away from egalitarian marriage and stick to more traditional “tried and true” styles of marriage. The type of marriage the interviewees' parents had may also have influenced how they view marriage. Our male interviewee's parents had parents who both work, but his mother only worked part time and took on more of the housework, but the interviewee would like to credit that to the fact that his mother took on a lot of work by herself. He has also taken a women's studies course which has affected his decision on how he would like his marriage to unfold. The somewhat egalitarian interviewee had parents with a more egalitarian home where her father played a big role. She may want her husband to have similar involvement with their children and that may lead her toward an egalitarian marriage. The female interviewee who was strictly egalitarian had parents with a traditional marriage, who are from Peru. Being the first generation born in the United States and feels a push to be more “American” and has also taken several women's studies courses and they have greatly influenced her ideal for marriage. Parents impact their children whether they set an example children want to follow or want to be the opposite of.

One thing that an egalitarian marriage tries to overcome is gender roles. The two interviewees that were strictly egalitarian wanted to not show gender roles in their marriage. They both showed a desire to do things to help out their partner, while the borderline egalitarian said that partners should do what they are good at and what household chores they prefer doing. The only topic where gender roles were even mentioned was when children were involved. Both females expressed a desire to be there for their children, especially in the beginning. They both wanted to stay home with their child for awhile; neither of them mentioned their husband staying at home. However the male did express willingness to stay at home depending on his wife's opinion. It is very hard to have a truly egalitarian marriage where gender roles do not exist, especially in a society where marriage used to be governed by gender roles.

Egalitarian marriage is not the norm in the United States, however there has been a significant push in that direction in the past twenty years. Women are becoming more educated and starting to compete with men for some of the top paying jobs, and men are having to put more effort in at home not that women are working as well. From this increase in education level women are also experiencing increase independence and desire to “break the mold” and not follow the traditional marriage paths. They also referred to their parents' marriages as either a model to follow or an example of what not to do in a marriage. They seemed mainly to use experience to come to the decision to have an egalitarian marriage, but they are also influenced by selection because they were born in to homes that could afford to send them to college and become educated, which is a key to an egalitarian marriage.


We found that most of the marriage style choices were due to experience instead of selection. Most people based their choice on education, family background, and religious affiliation. We found that the people that leaned towards a traditional marriage were in general more religious and wanted to get married at a younger age and stick to traditional gender roles. The people that preferred mixed valued education and generally had both partners working, at least until children entered the picture then they made more of a switch to traditional, then returning to egalitarian after the children were in school. The egalitarian marriages valued education and women’s self sufficiency while religion had little or no influence. In our study some of these marriage choice styles could be due to selection, all of these children were born in to middle-class household which predisposes them to the concerted cultivation style of parenting and makes them more efficient and successful socially. They will probably seek mates like this and live a mixed life style, which seemed to be the most popular among our sample.

Having many respondents of the same gender and religious background was a weakness of our research. We only had one strong “outlier” who was nonreligious and desired egalitarian structure. While we were able to find trends within our respondents, it might not be true for the entire population because we interviewed mostly white, middle class college students with similar backgrounds, especially religious backgrounds. If we had interviewed people in different life situations, the findings may have been different. Another weakness was that we interviewed more females than males; we were able to examine a smaller sample when we divided the respondent's into their desired marriage type. Although the purpose of our research was to find what people's ideals for marriage were at this point in their life, these findings may not hold true for a whole population or even be consistent in our respondent's futures.

There are some additional things that could have been studied along with gender roles in marriage. One is the socioeconomic status of the sample and how that alone or in combination will affect their ideal marriage. Also we could have studied strictly religion and degrees of religiousness and how that affected their marriage style. Also we could have used culture as a basis for this study and sought out people of different ethnicities for our sample. One study we think would be particularly interesting is a follow-up study ten years from now after our sample has gotten married, to see if they had the kind of marriage that they found ideal. Also we could see if our mini-theory that society as a whole is moving toward a more egalitarian marriage style because of women’s education, but with in a marriage the opposite seems to be true. The relationship starts out as more egalitarian but tends to move towards traditional as the marriage progresses and children are entered in to the family.

Work Cited

  1. Bem, S.L.. Writing Our own Script. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.

  1. Botkin, Darla R, M, Jeanette E. Morris, and M. O’Neal Weeks. Changing Marriage Role Expectations: 1961-1996,” Sex Roles: A Journal of Research,  May 2000.

  1. Denmark, Florence L. “The Thirty-Something Woman: To Career or Not to Career.” Gender Issues Across the Life Cycle. New York: Springer Publishing Company, 1992.

  1. Doosie, Bertjan, Agneta Fischer, Krystyna Rojahn. “Partner preferences as a function of gender, age, political orientation and level of education,” Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, Jan 1999.

  1. Dudleston, Anna C., Anne E. Green, Irene Hardill, and David W. Owen. “Decision Making in Dual-Career Households.” Gender Power and the Household. Houndsmills, Great Britain: Macmillan Press LTD, 1999.

  1. Levant, Ronald F. “The New Father Roles,” Gender Issues Across the Life Cycle. New York: Springer Publishing Company, 1992.

  1. Skolnick, Arlene. “Embattled Paradise: The American Family in an Age of Uncertainity.” BasicBooks, 1991.

  1. Stevenson, B. E.. Life in Black & White: Family and Community in the Slave South. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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