Marital Power Relations, Resources and Gender Role Ideology: A Multivariate Model for Assessing Effects

Article excerpt

Over the past 40 years, empirical research on marital power relations has been based on Resource Theory (Blood and Wolfe, 1960), an extension of the well-known Exchange Theory (Thibaut and Kelley, 1959). This popular approach to family power dynamics assumes that the partner with a resource advantage will also have a power advantage in the marital relationship. Empirical evidence has yielded partial support for this theory (Cromwell, Corrales and Torsiello, 1973, Fox, 1973, Kandel and Lesser, 1972; Katz and Peres, 1985), creating a need for continued development and modification (Rodman, 1967, 1972; Blumberg and Coleman, 1989; Dhruvarajan, 1992; Kingsbury and Scanzoni, 1989. Kranichfeld, 1987; Kulik and Bareli, in press; O'Connor, 1991).

One direction in which Resource Theory has been developed is the cultural context of the marital relation. According to Rodman (1967, 1972), power relations are affected both by norms regarding gender roles and by resources possessed by spouses. His studies in different countries revealed a relationship between normative social context and egalitarian (or non-egalitarian) marital relations. In Denmark, the United States, and Germany, for example, the wife's power advantage over her husband was stronger than in Greece and Yugoslavia, where social norms favor male dominance. Rodman assumed that this relationship held not only between countries, but also between traditional and modem sectors within the same modem society.

In addition to the direct relationship between gender role norms and marital power, Rodman argued that an indirect relationship exists, i.e., in traditional sectors with patriarchal values the impact of resources on marital power relations is limited. In these social contexts, the wife is expected to accept her husband's decisions even when she possesses considerable resources. In contrast, in modem sectors with relatively liberal gender role norms, there is a freer exchange between resources and decision making power in the marital relationship.

Based on this approach, it could be assumed that the impact of resources on marital power relations should be stronger in modem than in traditional contexts. This assumption, however, failed to be empirically substantiated in studies conducted in Mexico (Cromwell et al., 1973) and among Mormon students in the United States (Burr, Ahem and Knowles, 1977). Nor was it supported by an Israeli study (Katz, 1980), which in fact found higher correlations between resources and power in the traditional sector. These inconsistent findings indicate that the issue needs to be explored in greater depth.

The present study supplements existing research on marital power relations in different cultural contexts in several respects. Whereas previous studies have primarily addressed socioeconomic variables, the current research employs an integrative, multivariate model to assess the relative contributions of economic, social, health, psychological, and affective variables. Moreover, this study adds a future dimension to the explanation of family power dynamics. This dimension is expressed in the concept of anticipated dependence, i.e., the extent to which one spouse expects to become dependent on the other in the future in various areas of life. Thus, the model considers not only presently held power, but also anticipated power through future dependence. This is in keeping with research that considers the element of dependence a part of the power equation (Blau, 1964; Emerson, 1962). The inclusion of this dimension in the current model expands classic Resource Theory (which focuses on the exchange of accessible resources) by adding a potential resource that can affect current perceptions of power relations. The model is utilized to compare perceptions of elderly Israeli husbands who have relatively traditional gender-role ideologies with those who hold relatively liberal views.

An Integrative Model of Marital Power Relations

The current study makes use of an integrative model aimed at explaining attitudinal differences between "traditional" and "modern" husbands with regard to marital power relations. …


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