Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Differences in Family Norms for Men and Women across Europe

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Differences in Family Norms for Men and Women across Europe

Article excerpt

In recent decades, the centrality of marriage has declined, and the link between marriage and childbearing and childrearing has weakened. Nonmarital cohabitation, having children in cohabitation, and divorce all have become more common (Amato & James, 2010; Kiernan, 2001; Perelli-Harris et al., 2012) and more accepted (Liefbroer & Fokkema, 2008; Thornton & Young-DeMarco, 2001), yet, this trend toward greater acceptance of nonmarital living arrangements does not imply universal acceptance in Western societies or that behavior at odds with traditional marriage is deemed equally acceptable for men and women. Family behaviors such as divorce and having children in cohabitation may affect the lives of men and women differently, and as a consequence certain family choices might not be approved of for men and women to the same extent. Alternatively, if one would extrapolate from the sexual double standard, which traditionally has implied that sex outside marriage is less accepted for women than for men, one could expect that women behaving at odds with traditional marriage in other ways also meet more disapproval than men. Research on the sexual double standard suggests that certain forms of sexual behavior, such as having a large number of sex partners, are still judged as less acceptable for women than for men (Bordini & Sperb, 2013; Crawford & Popp, 2003).

Existing surveys on attitudes toward nonmarital living arrangements usually have included gender-neutral items or items referring to couples (e.g., Diefenbach & Opp, 2007; Halman et al., 2008; Thornton, 1985, 1989; Thornton & Young-DeMarco, 2001; Widmer, Treas, & Newcomb, 1998) and, sometimes, items that focused only on women (Pagnini & Rindfuss, 1993; Trent & South, 1992). However, several recent studies suggested that people may hold different attitudes and norms concerning males' and females' family choices. For instance, Goldscheider and Kaufman (2006) showed that single motherhood is more accepted than single fatherhood in the United States. A comparative European study demonstrated that voluntary childlessness was more approved of for women than for men in Europe (Rijken & Merz, 2014).

In the current article we use the term double standard to refer to such differences in approval of men's and women's family choices. A double standard can be defined as a different evaluation of the same behavior for different groups of people. Groups may be distinguished on the basis of a variety of characteristics, such as gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background (Foschi, 2000). We examined gendered double standards in norms regarding two family choices that differ from conventional family behavior: (a) divorce when one has children and (b) having children while cohabiting. By investigating a double standard regarding the latter family pattern, our study deviates from the study by Goldscheider and Kaufman (2006), who investigated the double standard of unmarried parenthood, which in the United States often implies single parenthood. In many European countries, having children in cohabitation is becoming increasingly common (Perelli-Harris et al., 2012).

We started from the assumption that it is not a priori clear whether people disapprove more of men or women who divorce when they have children or have children in cohabitation. We drew on different theories and formulated contrasting hypotheses on the direction of the double standard. Furthermore, we investigated whether men and women hold equally large double standards. Finally, we hypothesized that double standards are related to societal levels of socioeconomic gender equality. Therefore, we investigated whether double standards varied across European countries and the extent to which this variation could be explained by differences in national levels of socioeconomic gender equality.

In summary, we extend the literature in several ways. First, we contribute to the literature on family attitudes and norms, as differences between norms for men and women have largely been neglected in this field. …

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