Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Gender Dynamics Predict Changes in Marital Love among African American Couples

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Gender Dynamics Predict Changes in Marital Love among African American Couples

Article excerpt

This study examined the implications of gender attitudes and spouses ' divisions of household labor, time with children, and parental knowledge for their trajectories of love in a sample of 146 African American couples. Multilevel modeling in the context of an accelerated longitudinal design accommodated 3 annual waves of data. The results revealed that traditionality in husbands ' gender attitudes was linked to lower levels of love. Furthermore, divisions of household labor and parental knowledge moderated changes in love such that couples with more egalitarian divisions exhibited higher and more stable patterns of love, whereas more traditional couples exhibited significant declines in love over time. Finally, greater similarity between spouses' time with their children was linked to higher levels of marital love. The authors highlight the implications of gender dynamics for marital harmony among African American couples and discuss ways that this work may be applied and extended in practice and future research.

Key Words: African Americans, development, gender roles, marital quality.

Researchers have established that individuals who are married have better psychological and physical health (Proulx, Helms, & Buehler, 2007). Given that African Americans have poorer health than individuals from other racial/ethnic groups (Kung, Hoyert, Xu, & Murphy, 2008), researchers' attention has been drawn to African American marriages and the dynamics that support their stability (Bryant et al., 2010). Prior studies have uncovered structural, cultural, and individual factors that contribute to low marriage rates for African Americans; however, less attention has been paid to understanding the reasons for the relatively high rates of marital discord and disruption (Broman, 2005; Bulanda & Brown, 2007; Faulkner, Davey, & Davey, 2005; McLoyd, Cauce, Takeuchi, & Wilson, 2000) among African Americans who do marry (Raley & Sweeney, 2009). Thus, we currently know little about the processes that promote marital satisfaction within this group.

The larger literature on marriage documents that both gender attitudes and gendered marital dynamics are strongly linked to marital satisfaction and stability (Davis & Greenstein, 2009). This work, however, has relied on primarily European American samples. A cultural ecological perspective (Garcia Coll et al., 1996) directs attention to the significance of sociocultural conditions, values, and practices that shape individuals' experiences and highlights that conclusions drawn from research on European American marital processes may therefore not generalize to African American samples. Although researchers have examined gender attitudes and roles among African Americans (Kane, 2000), there is a dearth of research that has examined the impact of these factors on marital processes. Furthermore, the few available studies used ethnic comparative design to identify differences between African Americans and European Americans (e.g., Orbuch & Eyster, 1997). This research has been informative in showing that African American husbands and wives tend to share the family work and responsibilities more equally than do European American husbands and wives (Hossain & Roopnarine, 1993; John & Shelton, 1997). The question that remains to be addressed is whether more egalitarianism in gender attitudes and marital roles is linked to greater marital harmony among African Americans. An ethnic homogeneous design that focuses on factors underlying variability within an ethnic group is ideally suited to address this question (Garcia Colletai., 1996).

An understanding of larger sociocultural forces helps to illuminate the potential significance of gender in African American marriages. One factor is the history of African American women's employment: Unlike European American women, married African American women have maintained an enduring presence in the workforce (J. …

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