Women’s Changing Role in the Family and Society

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04/04/18 Psychology Reference this

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  • Nicole M. Tortoris


Today, women are tipping the balance of power in their favor. Women have gained power because society is becoming more aware of women’s potential, not only as mothers and housewives, but as businesswomen and entrepreneurs (Schoen, Astone, Rothert, Standish, & Kim, 2002). The battle of the sexes continues; women are becoming more independent and more preoccupied with their careers. Women’s independence is why they are less dependent on men and men’s financial support, and less willing to start a family for reasons concerning only economic safety. The emancipation of women, which began decades ago, led to a more active and influential presence in the business world, also known as “a man’s world.” The time to be an obedient housewife and a dedicated mother has passed, while the time for education and profession is present. Women are becoming too busy for large families for whom they must care during their entire youth (Schoen, Astone, Rothert, Standish, & Kim, 2002).

In their study, Schoen, Aston, Rothert, Standish and Kim (2002) investigated whether or not married women’s employment threatens their marriages. They pose a complex three-part hypothesis in which they examine the likelihood of a marriage to end in divorce based on the woman’s employment and the happiness of both or either spouse. They investigated these hypotheses using data from the 1988 and 1992-94 National Survey of Families and Households. In their analysis of this data, the authors consider two theories using the variables role specialization, interdependence, and economic opportunity. The first suggests that a married woman’s employment does pose a threat to her marriage; however, the second argues that in itself, the wife’s work does not endanger her marriage, but would allow her to leave if she were unhappy with the marriage. The authors’ findings support the second theory, that a working woman would be more likely to leave an unhappy marriage. The risk of divorce for a full time employed wife when both partners are unhappy is 4.94 times greater than not getting a divorce, p<.001. Her employment does not necessarily cause problems. The risk of divorce when both partners are not happy and the wife is unemployed is 3.20 greater than not getting a divorce, p<.001. The risk of divorce is 24% greater when the wife has had full-time employment within the last year (Schoen, Astone, Rothert, Standish, & Kim, 2002). A shortcoming of this study is that the authors admit that they have little data on the Hispanic population, which has only grown since the early 1990s, and that they were unable to consider any role played by ethnicity of married couples because of the demographic makeup of their sample.

Women’s fuller participation in the decision-making processes of our social institutions has shattered stereotypes that tended to limit females to feminine activities and pushed males into male activities (Heslin, 2007). As structural barriers continue to fall and more activities are degendered, both males and females will be freer to pursue activities that are more compatible with their individual abilities and desires instead of society’s prescribed roles. As stereotypes continue to be broken, new role models develop and socialization of children changes. Males and females will gain new perceptions of themselves and of one another. Sociologist Janet Chafetz (1974) conducted a qualitative longitudinal study utilizing focus groups, (based in large part on small class project by her students). In this study, Chafetz identifies 16 acceptable behaviors, eight for men and eight for women. Each of these themes focused on specific behaviors that are considered acceptable for men and women. This study’s findings were more useful in determining acceptable behaviors for men and women, and efforts to understand how far both men and women have advanced in terms of acceptable behaviors. This study was also useful because it looked at behaviors instead of stereotypes. In an attempt to take a new approach to this area of study, this study coded specific sex-typed behaviors, instead of using stereotypes, to assess gender in commercials. Chafetz (1974) explained that this change will allow men and women to express needs and emotions that traditional social arrangements denied them. Women and girls will likely perceive themselves as more in control of their lives, more assertive, and striving more for positions of leadership.

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With these roles changing, men and women will also develop a new consciousness of their capacities and their options, which will change relationships among men and women. Offen (1990) predicted that if current trends continue, American society may see a growing appreciation of sexual differences coupled with greater equality of opportunity. This has the potential of transforming society. According to Rogers and Amato (2000), there have been fundamental changes to gender relations. Since the 1960s, both men and women have become less traditional in their gender-role attitudes. Judge and Livingston (2008) examined the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a panel study administered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The sample was a nationally representative sample of 12,686 individuals between the ages of 14 and 22 years of age when the participants were first surveyed in 1979. Individuals were surveyed annually through 1994 and then interviewed on a biennial basis through to 2005. From the original sample, 60.4% of participants remained in the study. Judge and Livingston (2008) found that women have a more egalitarian orientation than men do (B=-.361, p<.01). They also found more educated people were less likely to have traditional gender role orientation (B= -.026, p<0.1), and participants became less traditional in their gender role attitudes over time (B= -.149, p<.01). In addition, Judge and Livingston (2008) found that negative effect of time on gender role orientation was stronger for men than for women, showing that the differences between men’s and women’s views on gender roles are narrowing over time (B=.046, p<.05)

Kulik (2002) analyzed 232 Israeli retirees aged 58 to 85 years to compare the differences between husbands and wives and their views on marital satisfaction. The results of this comparison suggest that gender may have implications for those couples who are at similar life stages versus those who are not. Participants in the study were asked to complete a 20 minute questionnaire. Research assistants made sure the couples filled out the questionnaire separately. Analyses of variance (ANOVA) was used to determine whether there were differences between husbands and wives with respect to marital satisfaction and gender role ideology, power relations, and division of family roles. Wives reported a lower level of marital satisfaction than their husbands F(2,103)=7.45,p<.05. Kulik found a correlation between equality in social roles and marital satisfaction for both husbands and wives. The higher level of perceived equality in social roles the greater their marital satisfaction r(230)=.28,p.05. There was also a significant correlation between equality in marital power relations and marital satisfaction for both partners; the greater perceived equality in power relations, the higher the level of marital satisfaction r(230)=.35,p<0.001. These findings are consistent with previous research (Kulik 1999) indicating that husbands who are married to women who are working have more modern gender role ideologies and less traditional attitudes regarding the division of labor.

In Kulik’s 1999 study of 348 men, 137 were pre-retired (up to 18 months prior to retirement) and 211 had been retired from 2 to 10 years. MANOVA revealed significant differences between pre-retired and retired husbands in gender role ideology (F [2,324] = 6.25, p<.01). Kulik noted that retirement synchrony and marital roles affected division of household labor, a potential source of conflict among many couples. Kulik’s findings suggested that the division of household labor was more egalitarian among retired couples versus those couples who were not retired. Couples in which the husband was retired and the wife was still employed demonstrated a pattern of labor division similar to that of retired couples. However, couples in which the wife was retired and the husband was employed demonstrated a pattern of labor division more consistent to that of employed couples. Thus, wives were disproportionately responsible for more tasks than husbands were.

Several potential explanations for a gendered division of household labor have been posited (Blair & Lichter, 1991). One explanation suggests that household responsibilities continue to be shouldered by women because women are socialized to adopt this as part of their identity as a woman. Therefore, many women may discourage help from their husbands because this challenges their self-identity. Recognizing that husbands contribute more to household duties upon retirement (Atchley, 1992), regardless of their wives’ employment status, may suggest a potential source of conflict as men encroach upon what has traditionally been accepted as a “woman’s domain.” This may be an issue that is more pronounced for individuals in age discrepant relationships who transition into retirement at different times. Although Kulik’s (1999; 2001) results do not suggest that age discrepancy may exacerbate potential sources of conflict that couples in age-similar marriages have already confronted and resolved, it is important to recognize that no specific data regarding age similarity between partners was provided. Moreover, Kulik’s (2001) study focused on Israeli couples who were in dual-earner marriages. As a result, the potential impact of culture may fail to extend to American couples.

Kurdek (1998) provides further support for the link between gendered divisions of household labor and gender socialization. Kurdek examined the relation among division of household labor, gender role orientation, and marital satisfaction. The link between gender role orientation and division of household labor were consistent with Kulik’s (1999; 2001) findings. Although the women in Kulik’s sample shouldered more of the household responsibilities than men, the division of household labor was not significantly related to marital satisfaction. According to Kulik, this may be because an inequitable division of household labor is consistent with traditional views regarding the roles of men and women and is therefore congruent with the expectations of both husbands and wives.

Ward’s (1993) study provides additional insight regarding the relation between marital satisfaction and the division of household labor. Unlike Kurdek (1998), Ward’s study provided evidence supporting the link between the division of household labor and marital satisfaction for wives, but not husbands. Ward analyzed the National Survey of Families and Households, which conducted interviews with a national probability sample of 13,017 participants. According to Ward, unequal divisions of household labor are not responsible for gender differences in marital satisfaction. The link to marital satisfaction is based on whether wives consider these labor divisions to be fair. Ward used multivariate analyses to investigate the predictors of perceived fairness in household labor and marital happiness. According to his findings, women participate in household tasks more often than men do (means: women=37, men=15, p=.0001). Perceived fairness of household chores appeared to be related to marital happiness. For women, unfairness to self is related to lower happiness, χ2 (1, N=538) =38.4, p<.005. Pina and Bengston (1995) suggest that marital satisfaction may diminish for wives who hold egalitarian views and for woman who work full-time outside of the home when their husbands do not help equally with household chores. This does not appear to be the case if a woman holds more traditional views and does not work full time. Although research indicates a consensus between husbands’ and wives’ views regarding the fairness of labor divisions, marital satisfaction among men remains unaffected by this imbalance because existing labor divisions spare them additional domestic responsibilities (Amato et al., 2003; Grote & Clark, 2001; Mannino & Deutsch, 2007; Mickelson, Claffey, & Williams 2006).

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Several studies have linked gender role ideologies to the division of household labor

(Kurdek, 1998; Gerson 2004; Mannino & Deutsch, 2007; Mickelson, Claffey, & Williams 2006; Robinson & Hunter, 2008), yet the impact of aging on attitudes toward sex roles remains unclear (Kulik, 1999). Inglehart, Norris, and Welzel (2003) found evidence that younger adults displayed more modern gender role ideologies when compared to older adults. Inglehar, Norris, and Welzel (2003) note that the differences between younger and older couples may reflect differences in socialization related to cohort. As a result, couples who are age discrepant may be more likely to experience conflicts related to the impact of cohort differences on attitudes toward sex roles. However, Burke and Cast (1997) note that newlyweds who have a newborn during the first year of marriage experience changes in gender identity that accompany gender role taking. According to Burke and Cast, gender-role-taking yields more congruency between partners with regard to gender identity. The implications of Burke and Cast’s study indicate that retirement may present the same opportunity for gender role taking among age discrepant marriages that the birth of a child does for newlyweds. These are issues that have yet to be examined among older couples and age discrepant marriages in particular.

Researchers have attempted to explore power, decision-making, and relationship satisfaction differences between males and females for years. There appears to be some sex difference in the levels of satisfaction within marriages. For example, there seems to be a difference in relationship satisfaction based on gender roles and ideologies (Mickelson, Claffey, & Williams, 2006; Sprecher, 2001). One predictor of relationship satisfaction may be equal participation in household work. Many women perceive the contribution by their partner, however limited, as an expression of love or support (Pina & Bengtson, 1993). Similarly, other studies suggest that balanced roles in relation to equal division of household labor (Mickelson, Claffey, & Williams, 2006; Rachlin, 1987) and equal contributions to child-rearing (Coltrane, 2000; Dempsey, 2002; Yogman & Bragelton, 1986) led to higher levels of relationship satisfaction. Tsang and colleagues (2003) and Marks and colleagues (2001) also concluded that when both spouses were employed full-time, relationship satisfaction was increased (Marks, Huston, Johnson, & Macdermid, 2001; Tsang, Harvey, Duncan, & Sommer, 2003).


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