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Sociologists Reason That Marriage Is A Gender-Unequal Relationship and Women Do More Emotional Labour

The best marriages are win-win propositions, in which both spouses end up happier and healthier than they’d be if they were single.
In many long-married couples, however, husbands seem to be getting the better end of the deal. A study in the latest issue of `Social Psychology Quarterly’ finds that married women over 50 rate the quality of their marriages lower than their husbands do.

That’s consistent with other research showing that older men tend to be more satisfied with their marriages than women. The study’s biggest contribution is comparing survey responses of husbands directly with those of their wives, helping “assess wheth er one spouse’s marital quality may influence the other’s over time“, said Miami University sociology professor Jennifer Roebuck Bulanda, who had no role in the study .

It turns out that while a woman and a man can have significantly different views of the same marriage, they’re not completely insensitive to each others’ feelings.

“The way one spouse perceives the marriage impacts the way the other perceives the marriage,“ said Jeffrey Stokes, a sociology professor at Illinois State University and the study’s author. “It’s not like it happens through telepathy ,“ he said, “It probably happens consciously or unconsciously in behaviours,“ such as showing affection, appreciation, and emotional support.

Stokes compared the responses of more than 200 couples over 50 who took part in the 18,000-person Panel Study of Income Dynamics in 2009 and 2013. On a four-point scale, they were asked, effectively, how supportive their spouses are: How much does he or she appreciate or under stand you? They were asked about flaws too: How much does he or she make you tense or get on your nerves?

The wives gave their marriages an average overall score of 2.99 in the 2013 survey; the husbands rated the very same marriages 3.2. A similar gap was found in the 2009 survey .While that may seem like a narrow difference, “it’s pretty much across the board“, Stokes said. No matter what question they’re asked, there’s a “clear trend of husbands reporting better marital quality than their own wives,“ he said.Overall, only 29% of women rated their marriages higher than their husbands did.

Sociologists have a few theories to explain the husband-wife gap. Traditional gender roles can push women to do more of the “emotional labour“ in their marriages, Stokes said. “When marriage is a gender-unequal institution, husbands are going to get more out of it than wives are,“ he said. Studies of younger straight couples find less of a gap. That may be a sign that young men and women are taking more equal roles. Or perhaps the gaps will widen as the couples age.

It’s possible women are just more willing to see reality. “Wives tend to be more direct in acknowledging marital problems, whereas husbands ignore conflict,“ wrote the authors of a 2014 study on the topic.

 

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