Working Women, Happier Families

A recent report by the Pew Research Center has reignited the debate over gender roles within heterosexual marriages. Due to significant changes in educational and employment statistics between men and women, the economic roles between spouses is changing.

The study focuses on the correlation between education level and income among men and women (and husbands and wives) between 1970 and 2007. Women’s disproportionate gains have been characterized by gender role reversals both inside the home and out. A New York Times article points out that the effect this has on the stability of marriages is generally positive.

While the changing economic roles of husbands and wives may take some getting used to, the shift has had a surprising effect on marital stability. Over all, the evidence shows that shifts within marriages – men taking on more housework and women earning more outside the home – have had a positive effect, contributing to lower divorce rates and happier unions.

Additionally, the recession has forced many couples to respond to unexpected financial pressures by stepping out of traditional gender roles. As it is becoming less unusual for women to be primary breadwinners, the same is proving to be true for men staying home and caring for the home and children.

These changes, however, come with new challenges. Adopting new gender roles means giving up traditional responsibilities.

Men, for instance, sometimes have a hard time adjusting to women’s equal or greater earning power. Women, meanwhile, struggle with giving up their power at home and controlling tasks like how to dress the children or load the dishwasher.

Despite difficulties in adjusting, the blurring of traditional gender roles appears to have a positive overall effect. In marriages where husbands and wives share household and employment responsibilities the relationship is likely to be more egalitarian, and spouses tend to be happier.

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The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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