What Wives Want; Happiest Marriages Not Necessarily Egalitarian

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 21, 2006 | Go to article overview

What Wives Want; Happiest Marriages Not Necessarily Egalitarian


Byline: Cheryl Wetzstein, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Girls may "just wanna have fun," as Cyndi Lauper once sang. But when girls become wives, they want love and support like what country heartthrob Randy Travis says: "forever and ever, amen."

So says research published this month in the journal Social Forces by University of Virginia sociologists W. Bradford Wilcox and Steven L. Nock.

The professors wondered whether egalitarian marriage - in which husbands and wives each work good jobs and split domestic duties down the middle - makes wives happy.

They reviewed data on 5,000 couples in the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH), conducted in the early 1990s, and found that women's happiness was tied most directly to the quality of their relationships with their husbands.

Wives are happiest when their husbands give them abundant concern, sensitivity, expressions of gratitude and undivided attention, said Mr. Wilcox, a resident scholar at the Institute for American Values.

"Marriage, now more than ever, is about meaningful conversation, empathy, affection and spending leisure time together," he and Mr. Nock concluded in their paper, "What's Love Got to Do With It? Equality, Equity, Commitment and Women's Marital Quality."

The two sociologists also found that contrary to popular ideas, wives' happiness was not tied to having "equal" paychecks or having husbands do "equal" amounts of housework.

Instead, they said, wives were happiest when their husbands earned more than they did - even two-thirds more. Wives also didn't care about the exact quantity of housework their husbands did, as long as the women felt the amount was "fair."

A fourth finding was that wives' happiness was stronger when they and their husbands both believed in the lifelong commitment of marriage and attended religious services together.

Taken together, Mr. Wilcox and Mr. Nock wrote, it appears that wives are happiest when their marriages combine the elements of "old" and "new" traditions.

The Wilcox-Nock study has sparked a spate of headlines, such as "The Return of the Happy Housewife" in the Los Angeles Times and "The Happiest Wives" in the New York Times.

Such fanfare dismays scholars such as Barbara J. Risman, head of the sociology department at the University of Illinois at Chicago and co-chairwoman of the Council on Contemporary Families.

The study's finding that empathetic, supportive husbands make wives the happiest is certainly important, she said.

It shows that women aren't impressed with "strong, violent, tough guys," she said. "If you want to help promote healthy marriage, teach men to be more like Alan Alda than John Wayne."

Buttheincome and housework findings in the Wilcox-Nock study are weak and have been "hyped" in the press, she said. …

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