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The Evolution of Gender Roles in Marriage

Gender Roles in MarriageOnce upon a time, young adults all aspired for the same thing – a good job, find a partner, move to the ‘burbs, start a family, get a dog … live happily ever after.  Young women seldom had a career, opting instead to marry, become a homemaker and stay home with the children.  The term “stay-at-home mom” had not even been coined yet – it was just expected of young women, that she forsake any future plans … she would be there for her husband and kids.

You’ve come a long way baby!

My, how a few decades have changed how women are viewed.  Though they strive to be equal in the workplace, unfortunately that has not happened, unless, of course, it is a family-owned business, a women-owned business, or their own business.  As of 2015, on average, women continue to earn considerably less than men.  For example, in 2015, female full-time workers made only 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, or a gender wage gap of 20 percent.

Women have continued to make strides in the workplace, and now marriage, making meals and having babies is no longer topping a young woman’s agenda.  Marriage no longer occurs shortly after high school, or even college, but it can wait until the career is in motion, and a couple of rungs on the corporate ladder have been transcended, and so maybe the 30s, marriage will happen, and a child, or two at the most, can be factored into the equation as well.  It appears that careers trump the traditional married life that your parents may have enjoyed.

Two trends that have evolved are the increased roles that men play in the marriage, and, even gender reversal as to housekeeping duties and major child-rearing responsibilities.  Sometimes, this was due to the recession and reduction in workforce, and, after a layoff in the family, if the women had a skillset that could bring home a higher wage, suddenly the woman in the house assumed her household duties.

To some extent this gender reversal occurs even in divorce, again, if the skillset of the mother makes it advantageous that she be employed at a higher wage, and the father, at a lower wage will take care of the children – where the venue that this takes place is specific to the household and how contentious or amicable the divorce was.

The recession didn’t necessarily create the reversal of roles in the marriage.  Sometimes the role reversal is subtle.  Today’s men are much happier to share in the responsibilities or chores around the house, rather than turn their nose up at them.  Perhaps their mother worked and as the oldest child, it was their responsibility to do these chores if both parents worked long hours.   These days, not only do men enjoy cooking, or even cleaning, but women don’t mind doing yard work, or even tinkering with tools around the house.

However, some couples prefer to have more traditional roles in their marriage.  Studies have even been done that bolster this fact, including one published in the “American Sociological Review” which found that couples have more frequent and more fulfilling sex when women do feminine chores, such as cooking and vacuuming, and men do masculine chores such as fixing the car and taking out the trash.  Specifically, it found that a wife’s sexual satisfaction was correlated with her husband’s share of the household’s masculine chores.

Research conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, illustrated that “if a wife earns more than her husband, the couple are 15% less likely to have a very happy marriage, 32% are more likely to report marital troubles, and 46% are more likely to discuss separating.”Traditional Gender Roles

Thus, the takeaway from both of these studies suggests that, even though the relationships that eschew traditional male and female roles in favor of more-progressive gender roles in the relationship in our modern-day society, marriages are still considered the most stable when it is a traditional marriage and the men are the primary breadwinners.

Oftentimes marriages nowadays are a result of a relationship which evolved into living together, so, the shared responsibilities seed was planted at that time.  Unlike the dominant partner, usually the male in the past, women knew what their role in the marriage was to be, and that was mimicking the role their mother had.

Shared responsibilities

How strong each partner’s personality is does play a part in the responsibilities they are willing to undertake in the relationship, and, though there may exist a definitive division of labor between the sexes, there will always be changing social expectations, which are reflected in somewhat different gender roles at different times.

How couples exist in their definition of their particular responsibilities in the house may be one thing behind closed doors, but, do they broadcast to the world that “this is the way we roll” to the rest of the world?  Does one or the other partner feel that others would view them as overburdened, or, even henpecked?

For the rest of the not-so-progressive world, marriage, for the most part, is not necessarily equitable, or accomplished in a traditional fashion, i.e. men still are the “he-man” and perform the manly chores, and, though they may seemingly participate in child-rearing responsibilities, it is ultimately Mom, who must take time off from work to tend to a sick child or take them to routine doctor’s appointments.

Family finances and traditional roles

Here is where there is some disparity in traditional roles in the marriage.  Though the husband was likely to be the “one in charge” of the household finances, by virtue of managing the bank account, paying the bills, devising a budget, and, even handing over an allotment of money to his partner for household expenses, such as groceries, with the advent of electronic banking, many couples now share the chore of being in charge of accounts payable, especially when using a joint bank account, and, it is not uncommon for couples to have separate checking accounts, especially if they kept their funds separate if they lived together before marrying.