Saturday, March 04, 2006

Equality, Equity, Commitment and Women's Marital Quality

Some excerpts below from a research paper (PDF) by W Bradford Wilcox and Steven L. Nock. Their findings undermine modern and feminist ideas of what leads to marital happiness

Abstract: The companionate theory of marriage suggests that egalitarianism in practice and belief leads to higher marital quality for wives and higher levels of positive emotion work on the part of husbands. Our analysis of women's marital quality and men's marital emotion work provides little evidence in support of this theory. Rather, in examining women's marital quality and men's emotional investments in marriage, we find that dyadic commitment to institutional ideals about marriage and women's contentment with the division of household tasks are more critical. We also show that men's marital emotion work is a very important determinant of women's marital quality. We conclude by noting that "her" marriage is happiest when it combines elements of the new and old: that is, gender equity and normative commitment to the institution of marriage.

The last century has witnessed profound changes in the functions, character and stability of marriage. In particular, the concomitant rise in women's social and economic status, the relative decline in social and economic functions once associated with the family, and the increased cultural power of expressive individualism have all conspired to heighten the importance of the emotional life of marriage. The emotional functions and character of marriage have become particularly crucial for contemporary marital happiness and marital stability as other sources of satisfaction and/or stability - home production, childrearing, the gendered division of labor and religious authority - have migrated to other sectors or weakened (Bumpass 1990; Cherlin 2004). Sentiment is increasingly the tie that binds together contemporary marriages.

The literature on marriage suggests that the emotional character of marriage is an especially salient determinant of women's marital quality (Erickson 1993; Wilkie, Ferree and Ratcliff 1998). Women are particularly vested in the emotional quality of their marriages because they have long borne the primary emotional burdens of family life. Their stake in the emotional character of their marriages is also rooted in gendered patterns of childhood socialization that encourage female proficiency in and sensitivity towards emotional dynamics in relationships (England and Farkas 1986; Maccoby 1998; Thompson and Walker 1989). Furthermore, because other sources of marital satisfaction have declined, women should now place a premium on the emotional quality of their marriages that outweighs other potential sources of marital satisfaction. Indeed, recent evidence indicates that the emotional quality of marriage is a better predictor of divorce for wives than husbands (Nock 2001; Sayer and Bianchi 2000). For all of these reasons, the "emotion work" (Hochschild 1979: 561) that men do in marriage - and the assessments their wives make of this work - is, in all likelihood, a crucial determinant of women's marital quality.

Accordingly, using data from the second wave of the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH2 [1992-1994]), this paper tests the relative importance of men's emotion work compared to a range of cultural and sociodemographic factors in determining women's marital quality. Drawing on Hochschild's work (1979, 1989), we define husbands' marital emotion work as any effort to express positive emotion to their wives, to be attentive to the dynamics of their relationship and the needs of their wives, or to set aside time for activities focused specifically on their relationship. After demonstrating the crucial import of men's marital emotion work, we then set out to determine the key determinants of men's emotion work in marriage. Specifically, we elaborate four theoretical models, which test the relative contributions that gender egalitarianism, normative commitment to marriage, gender equity and gender traditionalism make to men's marital emotion work (and women's marital quality).

A Companionate Model of Marriage

Many contemporary family scholars argue that egalitarian marriages are characterized by the kind of emotion work - affection, empathy, quality time devoted to intimacy - that makes for high-quality, stable marriages (Amato, Johnson, Booth and Rogers 2003; Blumstein and Schwartz 1983; Burgess, Locke, and Thomes 1963; England and Farkas 1986; Goldscheider and Waite 1991). What we call the companionate theory of marriage is predicated on three assumptions about the links between egalitarianism and marital emotion work.

First, spouses share similar work and family responsibilities. Such role sharing is supposed to increase the quality of emotion work in marriage by providing husbands and wives with common experiences and interests around which they can build conversations, empathetic regard, mutual understanding and the like. The companionate marriage stands in clear contrast to an older model of marriage where women specialize in expressive, private functions and men specialize in instrumental, public functions. The blurring or elimination of such gender roles, advocates of companionate marriage suggest, will result in a richer emotional life where, among other things, men do more marital emotion work.

Second, the elimination of patriarchal authority and power is seen as a key mechanism for promoting marital intimacy. Classical social theory has long noted the tensions between authority or power and intimacy (Weber 1978). The exercise of authority and power is usually associated with social distance, and marital theorists have argued that one of the reasons that men are less expressive in marriage is that they seek to protect their traditional dominance by limiting their expression of affect. Likewise, women's financial dependence on marriage has led them to cater to the emotional needs of their mates and to the emotional dynamics of the marital relationship in an effort to maintain the security of their marriages and to elevate their status within marriage. Women also have been socialized to minimize the expression of their own thoughts, desires and feelings - especially negative ones - for fear of jeopardizing their marriages (Blood and Wolfe 1960; Blumberg and Coleman 1989; Thompson and Walker 1989). By contrast, the companionate theory of marriage predicts that marriages characterized by an ethic of equal regard, as well as equal access to the labor force, will have higher levels of male emotion work and interpersonal honesty (Gottman 1994). In such marriages, women should feel like they have the power to speak their minds and men should feel a greater responsibility to shoulder their share of the emotion work associated with marriage.

Third, egalitarian-minded men are supposed to be more open to a "counterstereotypical" masculinity conducive to marital emotion work (McQuillan and Ferree 1998). Traditionally, masculinity has been defined in opposition to all things feminine - including the ready and frequent expression of emotion, affection and vulnerability, as well as attentiveness to relationship dynamics (Gilmore 1990). By contrast, men who identify with the ethos of egalitarianism should embrace a counterstereotypical masculinity, that is, "a style of manliness that is not afraid to accept influence from women, to recognize and express emotion, and to give cognitive room to the marriage relation as such." (McQuillan and Ferree 1998: 223) For all these reasons, the companionate theory of marriage would predict that egalitarian relationships are characterized by more "interpersonal closeness, trust, communication and mutuality" that generate the kinds of experiences and emotional skills that foster marital emotion work on the part of men (Goldscheider and Waite 1991: 4). Thus, the companionate model of marriage suggests the following hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1a: Wives in egalitarian marriages will be more satisfied with their marriages.

Hypothesis 1b: Husbands in egalitarian marriages will do more positive marital emotion work.

Given the strong hypothesized link between women's marital quality and men's marital emotion work, the companionate theory of marriage would predict - ceteris paribus - that more equal marriages are happier. Nonetheless, recent research on the link between marital equality and marital quality is mixed, with a number of studies finding that more traditional women have happier marriages (e.g., Amato and Booth 1995; Gager and Sanchez 1998; Sanchez, Wright, Wilson and Nock 2003; Wilkie et al. 1998; but see Amato et al. 2003). Of course, the lack of a clear connection between marital equality and women's marital happiness may be because other institutional and cultural factors confound the association between egalitarianism and marital happiness for women.....

Data and Methods

We analyze data drawn from the second wave of the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH2 [1992-1994]), a nationally representative sample of adults age 23 and older. We use data from NSFH2 because the first wave of the survey (NSFH1 [1987-1988]) does not have as many measures of positive marital emotion work. NSFH2 re-interviewed 10,008 of NSFH1's 13,007 original respondents for a response rate of approximately 77 percent. NSFH2 also interviewed current spouses of its original respondents who were married in the second wave. Response rates averaged slightly more than 80 percent for the spouses of married respondents (Bumpass and Sweet 1995; Sweet, Bumpass and Call 1988).2 For our analyses, we rely on a subsample of 5,010 couples drawn from NSFH2. The statistics and analyses used for this study are based on weighted data, adjusted for oversamples of African-Americans and Hispanics and for attrition from NSFH1 to NSFH2.....

Discussion and Conclusion

Recent work indicates that marital quality declined over much of the past four decades, although the rate of decline seems to have leveled off in the 1990s (Glenn 1991; Rogers and Amato 1997; Popenoe and Whitehead 2004). The research to date suggests that this development may be, in part, a product of the fact that women with increasingly egalitarian gender role attitudes are married to men who have not adopted a sufficiently egalitarian approach to marriage (Amato and Booth 1995; Chafetz 1995). Insofar as we find strong support for the equity model, this study suggests that part of the decline in marital quality is indeed related to the continuing mismatch between women's attitudes and marital equality. Moreover, we saw evidence that women who are more egalitarian-minded and more upset with the division of household labor receive lower levels of positive emotion work from their husbands, perhaps because they are more likely to initiate conflict with their husbands. Thus, rising expectations among women for marital equality may also have the unintended effect of lowering investments in marital emotion work on the part of men; this, in turn, may be associated with declines in marital quality for American women.

But the findings in this study also lend support to institutional and gender accounts of this decline in marital quality. From an institutional perspective, we find that shared church attendance and normative support for the institution of marriage are associated with higher levels of women's marital happiness. Thus, declines in religious attendance over the past four decades (Steensland, Park, Regnerus, Robinson, Wilcox and Woodberry 2000), along with the liberalization of attitudes to divorce and extramarital sex (Thornton and Young-DeMarco 2001), may also account for recent shifts in marital quality insofar as they reduce the social and normative supports that foster higher investments in marriage.

From a gender perspective, our findings suggest that increased departures from a male-breadwinning/female-homemaking model may also account for declines in marital quality, insofar as men and women continue to tacitly value gendered patterns of behavior in marriage. Specifically, we find that the gendered character of marriage seems to remain sufficiently powerful as a tacit ideal among women to impact women's marital quality even apart from the effects of the continuing mismatch between female gender role attitudes and male practices. Of course, this is also indicative of the fact that we find virtually no evidence for the companionate model, since women are not happier in marriages marked by egalitarian practices and beliefs.

Our findings also speak to the role of emotion work in women's global marital quality. First, it is important to highlight our finding, judging by the dramatic increase in model fit, that men's emotion work (and women's assessments of that work) is the most crucial determinant of women's marital quality. It is more important than patterns of household labor, perceptions of housework equity, female labor force participation, childbearing, education and a host of other traditional predictors of global marital quality. This finding suggests that the functions, character, and stability of contemporary marriages are intimately tied to their emotional well-being.

We find little evidence in support of the companionate model of marriage when it comes to men's emotion work. For the most part, marriages that are more egalitarian in belief and practice are not marked by higher levels of men's positive emotion work or by women's happiness with such emotion work. Instead, we find modest evidence that wives' gender traditionalism is independently related to higher levels of men's positive emotion work in marriage. We also find evidence that homemaking wives report greater happiness with their husband's emotion work, and may be more likely to receive such work from their husbands. In other words, adherence to traditional beliefs and practices regarding gender seems to be tied not only to global marital happiness but also - surprisingly enough - to expressive patterns of marriage.

We also find evidence for the institutional model of marriage, which stresses the importance of social and normative support for marriage. Wives who share high levels of church attendance are more likely to report happiness with their husband's emotion work in marriage. Moreover, wives who share a normative commitment to marriage with their husbands are more likely to report happiness with the emotion work done by their husbands, probably because they seek to legitimate their own investment in married life. Thus, socially-conservative practices and (possibly) beliefs appear to be linked to lower expectations of marital emotion work on the part of women. But it is also possible that they are associated with more expressive marriages. In any case, women who share a commitment to the institution of marriage with their husbands express greater happiness with the expressive state of their relationship.

This study also demonstrates that women who are not happy with the fairness of the division of household labor are less satisfied with their husband's positive emotion work and less likely to receive such emotion work. We suspect that higher expectations of intimacy and equality among women, especially more egalitarian-minded women, have led them to view their husbands' emotion work more critically; we also suspect that these expectations have increased marital conflict and - in turn - dampened men's marital emotion work (Chafetz 1995; Hochschild 1989). To repeat Chafetz (1995: 78): "The typical marriage has been increasingly reconceptualized by many women as short on intimacy and equality and therefore unacceptable." Thus, the irony here is that - at least over the short term - the increased popularity of companionate ideals of marriage seems to have contributed to a decrease in the prevalence of the companionate marriage in practice....

In conclusion, our results suggest that the road to successful "new families" (Goldscheider and Waite 1991) is more circuitous and difficult than originally thought. While it is true that changes in men's behavior are required for this transformation (Goldscheider and Waite 1991), it also appears that contemporary couples could benefit from a heightened appreciation of the role that shared religious practice and normative commitments to marriage play in supporting women's marital quality and the expressive dimension of marital life. Our results also suggest that more traditional beliefs and practices regarding gender play a positive role in the quality and expressive character of many women's marriages, even apart from the dramatic shifts in gender role ideology in the last few decades. At least for many American women, this study indicates that "her" marriage is most happy when it combines elements of the new and old.

British schools to ban those incorrect fizzy drinks and chocolate

Dame Suzi Leather sounds like a harsh mistress. She is also soft in the head. If you look at the approved food, you will see that "fromage frais" gets a stamp of approval time after time. Yet that is a cheese-based yoghurt which would be EXTREMELY calorific! It's total calories that make you fat -- not where they come from

Schools will be banned from selling junk food and told to give pupils seeds and yoghurt drinks in moves to tackle child obesity. Parents will also be issued with guidelines on food high in fat and sugar which should not be included in their children's packed lunches.

Nuts, seeds and yoghurt drinks will replace crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks in tuck shops, after-school clubs and vending machines, say the draft guidelines issued yesterday by the government-appointed School Food Trust (SFT). The laws to wean children off sweets and chocolate will be among the toughest in the world and will take fizzy sugary drinks off the menu, as well as diet and sport drinks and flavoured waters.They come just days after the Audit Commission attacked the Government for its indecision and lack of leadership over the implementation of measures to curb child obesity.

Children will be allowed to have milk, yoghurt drinks, water and fruit juices as well as tea, coffee and low-calorie hot chocolate. Crisps will be banned at all times, but cakes and biscuits will be allowed at lunch and in after-school clubs. Dame Suzi Leather, chairman of the SFT, said the rules, to be introduced from September, were necessary because children were eating too much sugar, fat and salt with "little or no nutritional value".

"They [the new rules] cannot succeed if pupils are surrounded with chocolate, crisps and drinks that fill them up with sugar and fat during the school day," she said. "Anecdotal evidence suggests that when these products are removed, behaviour improves and this could also have implications for better learning." The SFT said that about a quarter of children were obese or overweight and 53 per cent of the 4-18 age group had dental decay.

The food and soft drinks industry is estimated to make 45 million pounds a year from school vending machines. Schools are believed to make 2,500 pounds a year per vending machine.

A spokesman for the Automatic Vending Association, whose machines are only in secondary schools, said: "We think educated choice would have been better than outright prohibition." Masterfoods, which supplies Mars and Snickers bars, said it was "disappointed with the SFT's simplistic approach. Banning certain foodstuffs will not work. Young people need to understand how to enjoy a balanced diet and active lifestyle."

Dame Suzi said that the SFT would also be strengthening lunchbox guidelines, and would expect schools to advise parents of what should be included in a healthy diet. The SFT guidance is out for consultation until May. The Education and Inspections Bill, which was published this week, requires governing bodies and local authorities to comply with healthy eating regulations in the provision of "all food and drink provided on the premises" of state schools. It gives ministers power to ban specific types of food and drink from schools and states that the rules will apply "to food or drink provided by contractors under arrangements made with LEAs or governing bodies


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