A couple of weeks ago, two sociologists at the University of Virginia, W. Bradford Wilcox and Stephen L.Nock, published a study concluding that wives in traditionalist marriages–where the husband is the primary breadwinner, the couple both attend regular worship services, and both are committed to marriage as a lifelong institution rather than a ball-and-chain to be ditched when one party falls out of love–are a lot happier than those in more “progressive” marital arrangements.
Those conclusions, based on data from a massive family survey conducted by the University of Wisconsin during the 1990s, flies in the face of what every feminist ideologue from Betty Friedan on down has preached: that married women are happier when they work outside the home and split the housework and child care 50-50 with their husbands.
“The more traditional a marriage is, the sociologists found, the higher the percentage of happy wives. Among couples who have the husband as the primary breadwinner, who worship together regularly and who believe in marriage as an institution that requires a lifelong commitment, 61% of wives said they were ‘very happy’ with their marriages. Among couples whose marriage does not have all these characteristics, the percentage of happy wives dips to an average of 45.
“Even for wives who work full time outside the home, the key to marital happiness isn’t splitting household chores and child care down the middle with their husbands. It’s much simpler: an affectionate and appreciative husband who believes, along with his wife, that marriage is forever. Sociologists call it ’emotion work’ – husbands talking to their wives, being understanding and supportive, spending quality time in the form of romantic evenings for two, walking hand-in-hand on the beach and so forth.
“‘It’s far more important than who does the dishes and folds the laundry,’ Wilcox said”
Of course the study has gotten the feministas riled. Some pooh-pooh the numbers, which Wilcox and Nock stand by. Others just can’t believe a la Judith Warner (costs $$$ to read) that full-time homemaking is anything more than a “gender caste system” in which the “lower-status member” has to do the mopping and scrubbing.
Here’s Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman:
“The new norm is a husband who expresses more feelings than his father and a wife who cleans more toilets than her husband. But do women really want to lower their expectations? Aren’t they pretty low already?
“If homemakers believe labor is divided fairly along traditional lines, it probably is. But how many women who work equal hours for lower wages end up doing more laundry because he brings home more bacon? How many wives comfort themselves with the Lake Wobegon theory of marriage: all their husbands are above average?”
In other words, traditionalist wives aren’t really heppy; they just think they’re happy because their “expectations” are so low.
The solution–besides sending traditionalist women to mandatory consciousness-raising sessions run by Judith Warner, is to redouble the hectoring of your husband:
“We are in the midst of a long and bumpy era of social change where the relationships between men and women are in flux and marriages may change or end. Women who expect equality are not likely to heed the old Archie Bunker line: ”Stifle yourself, Edith.’ Indeed, women at the demanding, cutting edge may eventually be the ones who reduce the divorce rate rather than raising the unhappiness index.
“So the question is not whether women should lower their expectations. It’s whether men will kick it up another notch.”
Yes, nagging–the route to marital bliss. Remember, you may think you’ll be less happy when you and your spouse are at war with each other, but you’ll actually be happier because your “expectations” will be so much higher.