New study finds that egalitarian marriage doesn’t make women happier

Elusive Wapiti writes about in this blog post.


Norwegian researchers confirm and extend Brad Wilcox and Steven Nock’s research suggesting that egalitarianism sets couples up to fail:

“What we’ve seen is that sharing equal responsibility for work in the home doesn’t necessarily contribute to contentment,” said Thomas Hansen, co-author of the study entitled “Equality in the Home”.

The lack of correlation between equality at home and quality of life was surprising, the researcher said. “One would think that break-ups would occur more often in families with less equality at home, but our statistics show the opposite,” he said.

The figures clearly show that “the more a man does in the home, the higher the divorce rate,” he went on. The reasons, Mr Hansen said, lay only partially with the chores themselves. “Maybe it’s sometimes seen as a good thing to have very clear roles with lots of clarity … where one person is not stepping on the other’s toes,” he suggested. “There could be less quarrels, since you can easily get into squabbles if both have the same roles and one has the feeling that the other is not pulling his or her own weight.”

See, Wilcox’s view is this:

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.

His full study from 2006 is here.

And more again from Elusive Wapiti’s post about the new Norwegian study:

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 [women’s] emotional well-being.

…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.

[W]omen are not happier in marriages marked by egalitarian practices and beliefs…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 [EW: love, affection, and understanding] or by women’s happiness with such emotion work…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. [N]o measure of egalitarianism in practice or belief is associated with higher levels of men spending quality time with their wives. Indeed, in keeping with the gender model of marriage, wives’ gender egalitarianism and work outside of the home leads to less positive emotion work on the part of husbands.

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.

[S]hared 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.

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…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. [2]

He has an interesting graph there of what women want from marriage, and what men want. Who knew that women wanted gardening?

In any case, I really do think that this is important to understand, because I see a lot of pastors and evangelical leaders embracing egalitarianism, because they can’t make the case for complementarianism using anything except the Bible. Well, the Bible does support complementarianism. But when you are debating it with an egalitarian, it helps to have the evidence.

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16 thoughts on “New study finds that egalitarian marriage doesn’t make women happier”

  1. Me, too. Now I am learning to cook and I am pretty good at cleaning, and really good at nurturing. It’s hard to ask someone to do something unless you show them that you are willing to do it, and it also helps to be able to help the other person. All leadership depends on that ability and willingness to do what you ask someone else to do.


  2. You’d better not tell my husband that. We’ve been married for 38 years and we share all the work. I can even do house repair work, including concrete and putting in windows. I also know quite a few other people who are the same as us.

    The biggest problem, I think, is that couples don’t sit down before they marry and talk about what they expect from marriage.

    As for the gardening, nearly every woman I know loves gardening as a way to relax. My husband isn’t that keen on it, that’s why I do most of the work in our crop land. He’s very good at pulling up the crops with the weeds.


      1. There exists this implicit faulty assumption that the Authority of the husband over his wife is always abusive. And that the submission of wife to husband is enabling abuse.

        This argument could subsequently be applied to all Authority and power.


  3. This is fascinating! Thanks for sharing it. The bit about the decline in religious attendance and adherence and its affect on the culture (unsurprising, of course) and marriage was fascinating to actually see in print, if that makes sense.

    Hubby and I got a kick out of the placement of “Listens To What I Say” in that graph (actually, a good hearty laugh is more like it). Also, so far as the gardening bit—I do love gardening, and I suspect that might mean “he digs the big holes for the fruit trees and rosebushes and builds raised beds for the veggies”. Just a thought. ;)


    1. I think gardening is a smart thing to look for, because it shows that the person is good at making long-term plans and nurturing things and making them grow. It’s a great skill. I wish I could do it better. For now, I just train my cockatiel to do amazing things.


  4. Sorry, but one word for this study– BS! No woman wants to be treated as property and the ones who do are either a. lying or b. so brainwashed that they cannot see anything outside of being treated as patriarchy. I am not a man’s property. I do not belong to a husband. i belong to Christ alone. Complementarianism makes me sick. Your bait is that he will take care of me. But why does he need to? I’m not a cripple and I’m not a child.

    Feminism began as a Christian movement. The original feminists were Christians, with the exception of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It is a tragedy that many Christians would like to turn the clock back to when a woman was dead in the eyes of the law. I see very little difference between complementarian views on women and extremist Islamic views except that complementarians believe in Christ.


    1. “I see very little difference between complementarian views on women and extremist Islamic views except that complementarians believe in Christ.”

      Methinks you would be pretty angry if someone equated feminists to Soviety-style communists in the same way…


      “No woman wants to be treated as property and the ones who do are either a. lying or b. so brainwashed that they cannot see anything outside of being treated as patriarchy.”

      Now wait a minute. The whole article is about how egalitarian marriage does not make women happy, and that women are often happier in complementarian marriages. Clearly, whether you use the terms “property” or “patriarchy” or not, there is great merit in complementarian marriage (with further evidence scientific study beyond rational and revelatory information).

      So perhaps there is an alternative explanation: Men and women have been sold a lie that distorts the natural inclinations of men and women, and it has failed miserably.


      1. Patriarchy has as its components both the Complementary relationship between the sexes as well as hierarchy in which the the Husband is superior in rank in relation to his wife. As Christ is to his church(Ephesians 5).


    2. Complementarian marriages are not at all like Islamic ones. Women are not property of their husbands. Women have equal value to men. It’s not about women being owned or being subserviant to men at all.

      The only way in which complementarian marriages differ from egalitarian ones is in affirming different roles (not values) for men and women within marriage rather than no set roles at all. Complementarians believe men and women are intrinsically different in more ways than their genitals. They believe that these differences are complementary in that men have strengths that women need and women have strengths that men need and that, together, a husband and wife can specialize in their roles to be a more effective team. It affirms the special and irreplaceable roles of women (and men) rather than saying that women and men are interchangeable or that there is nothing special about being a woman.


  5. Female infidelity is common in these marriages because traditional, alpha males see women with husbands who treat them as equals as easy targets.


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