Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Gender and Marital Satisfaction Early in Marriage: A Growth Curve Approach

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Gender and Marital Satisfaction Early in Marriage: A Growth Curve Approach

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study is to assess differences between husbands and wives (N = 526 couples at the first assessment) on (a) growth curves over the first 4 years of marriage for psychological distress, marriage-specific appraisals, spousal interactions, social support, and marital satisfaction; (b) the strength of intraspouse links and cross-spouse links involving the initial assessment of the first four variables and the growth curve for marital satisfaction; and (c) differences between spouses headed for divorce versus spouses in stable marriages on the growth curves for all five variables. On the basis of evidence that interspouse differences were largely nonsignificant, there was little support for the view that there are his and her versions of the processes that affect marital outcomes.

Key Words: gender differences, growth curves, longitudinal study, marital satisfaction.

Based primarily on the pioneering work of Bernard (1982), family scholars often regard marriage as coming in his and her versions. Indeed, two classes of theories support the position that men and women experience their close relationships in different ways. The class of biological theories posits that men and women process events in their relationships differently at the cardiovascular, endocrinological, immunological, neurosensory, and neurophysiological levels. For example, Kiecolt-Glaser and Newton (2001) reviewed evidence showing that although men are more physiologically sensitive than women to acute Stressors (e.g., men show larger changes in blood pressure and epinephrine to laboratory Stressors such as doing mental arithmetic in front of an audience), women show stronger and more durable physiological changes to marital conflict than men do.

Other biologically oriented theories propose that men and women differ in areas in which they have faced distinct adaptive challenges in the course of their evolutionary past (see review by Simpson & Gangestad, 2001). For example, in a meta-analysis of evidence regarding strategies used to attract a mate, Schmitt (2002) found that whereas appearance-related tactics (e.g., enhancing one's appearance) were judged to be more effective for women than for men (a moderate effect), resource-related tactics (e.g., demonstrating one's financial security) were judged to be more effective for men than for women (a large effect). This pattern of findings is consonant with the idea that men value physical attractiveness as a response to their distinct evolutionary challenge of finding a mate who can bear children, and that women value resource prospects as a response to their distinct evolutionary challenge of finding a mate who will provide for a family.

The class of social psychological theories posits that men and women differ in ways directly relevant to relationship functioning, such as the content and structure of how the self is construed (e.g., Cross & Madson, 1997), personality traits (Costa, Terracciano, & McCrae, 2001), and socialized roles (Eagly, 1987). For example, Cross and Madson reviewed results indicating that whereas women represent their self-attributes and preferences within the narrow context of dyadic relationships, men represent them within the broad context of group memberships. In a meta-analysis of studies conducted within the framework of the Big Five model of personality, Costa et al. reported that women are higher than men in neuroticism (a large effect), agreeableness (a large effect), and extraversion (a medium effect). Finally, Eagly argued that the underlying cause of gender-typed social behavior is the division of labor between women and men. As a consequence of this division, women are expected to behave communally, and these expectations get translated into behaviors such as cooking and child care, which equip them for fulfilling domestic roles. Men, on the other hand, are expected to behave agentically, and these expectations get translated into behaviors relevant to earning capacity that equip them for fulfilling occupational roles. …

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