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Why equality may not be working out for married couples

Modern societal attitudes celebrate women earning more than their husbands. Women are now equal to men. They are encouraged to get qualified in their chosen field of interest and follow a career to the top. She is assisted in this attempt by a husband that has been socialized to understand that he must do his fair share of childrearing and household duties.

So everybody wins in this much more fair society, right?

Not really.

Research from the University of Illinois found when women’s paychecks increased, they reported more symptoms of depression. But the opposite effect was found in men: their psychological well-being was highest when they were the primary wage-earners.

Researchers Karen Kramer and Sunjin Pak examined data on nearly 1,500 men and 1,800 women between the ages of 52 and 60 and found that couples who resist traditional gender roles, or who shoot for a so-called equal marriage, are less happy than those who stick to the traditional way of doing things.

“We observed a statistically significant and substantial difference in depressive symptoms between men and women in our study,” said Kramer. “The results supported the overarching hypothesis: well-being was lower for mothers and fathers who violated gendered expectations about the division of paid labor, and higher for parents who conformed to these expectations.”

The conclusion: equality is not working out for married couples.

Kramer and Pak also say women’s happiness was not affected by leaving work to become stay-at-home moms, but men’s mental health declined when they stayed home to care for the kids.

Interestingly, these findings were true even for couples who had an egalitarian view of work and family. Their modern views notwithstanding, men’s health took a hit when their earnings shrank — clearly suggesting the traditional role of primary earner is still very important to men.

Society’s logical assumption that marriages will improve by being more equal has not panned out. Why are couples not happier now that each partner is recognized as equal and together they earn more income to boot?

The researchers suggest that while women’s educational and career opportunities have multiplied, societal norms and expectations about gendered divisions of labor in the workplace and the home have been slower to evolve.

Also, mothers and fathers who deviate from conventional gender roles – such as dads who leave the workforce to care for their children full time – may be perceived negatively, potentially impacting their mental health, Kramer and Pak wrote.

Men and women are not interchangeable beings, pure and simple, write Suzanne Venker for Fox News.

“They may both be capable of being breadwinners and full-time parents, but that doesn’t mean they want to perform these tasks with equal fervor. Typically speaking, a man’s identity is inextricably linked to his paycheck. A woman’s is linked to her children.”

The point is this: the fact that this is not true for all women or all men, doesn’t mean that it’s not still true for most men and women.

Venker specializes in gender relations and is an author and founder of Women for Men (WFM), a news and opinion website.

Her point makes complete sense:

“Human nature doesn’t change just because society does. Just as women are emotionally invested in the home in a unique and primal way, men have a visceral need to provide and protect. That’s how most men and women gain their sense of self-worth.”

It doesn’t mean that role reversal in a marriage is impossible or that it never works, but the fact is that in most cases it doesn’t and in most cases the traditional role division still does a better job.

Yeah, but that is also just half of what lies behind the disappointing performance (excuse the pun) of equal marriages.

A study reported in The New Times in 2014 found that sex suffers in these marriages. Specifically, if men did feminine chores like folding laundry, cooking or vacuuming, then couples had sex 1.5 fewer times per month than those with husbands who did what were considered masculine chores, like taking out the trash or fixing the car.

There’s more.

The more traditional the division of labor, meaning the greater the husband’s share of masculine chores compared with feminine ones, the greater his wife’s reported sexual satisfaction.

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Pearl Nash

Written by Pearl Nash

I've always been passionate about eastern philosophy, ever since I became aware that western philosophy places too much emphasis on being positive and happy all the time. I prefer to keep things simple, and I hope you enjoy my writing on Hack Spirit.

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