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Gender Roles and Marriage: A Fact Sheet
Gender roles and expectations play a significant role in couple interaction,
family decision-making, and perspectives on marital satisfaction.
power than his wife to make key decisions. Recent
research shows a dramatic departure from this
Gender roles and expectations play a significant role
view that could be explained, in part, by the influx
in couple interaction, family decision-making, and
of women into the workforce. In fact, the U.S.
perspectives on marital satisfaction. Gender roles
Department of Labor reports that almost 60% of
are typically determined by society (Williams and
women were in the workforce in 2004.
McBain 2006). Over the past several decades, these
expectations have changed dramatically in the United
According to a survey conducted in 2007 by
States for both men and women due to shifting
Amato, Booth, Johnson and Rogers, by the end
of the 1990’s, the majority of husbands believed
that spouses should share breadwinning, that a
wife’s employment does not interfere with her role
In the U.S., traditional gender
as a mother and that husbands should take on a
roles and behaviors have typified
greater share of the housework when their wives are
men as autonomous, powerful,
employed. In turn, studies show that the majority of
controlling, assertive, aggressive
wives expect husbands to perform a greater share of
and self-determined...U.S. women,
the household chores and child care than in recent
on the other hand, have traditionally
been considered the caregiver and
In the U.S., traditional gender roles and behaviors
have typified men as autonomous, powerful,
controlling, assertive, aggressive and self-determined.
Within the family, the traditional male role has been
one of authority and financial responsibility. U.S.
women, on the other hand, have traditionally been
considered the caregiver and homemaker. In the
mid-1950’s, it was a common belief that the husband,
acting as head of the household, should have more
This graph illustrates husbands’ and wives’ mean scores on a scale of conservative gender attitudes in
1980 and 2000 (Amato, Booth, Johnson, Rogers, 2007). This was based on responses to a series of seven
statements regarding gender arrangements in marriage. The questions focused mainly on wives’ employment
and motherhood. Those respondents who supported the view that husbands should be breadwinners and
wives should be homemakers and primary caregivers were considered to be conservative. Both African-
American husbands and wives in this study held more traditional views than white couples; Latinos were found
to be no more or less traditional than whites.
the man. By contrast, 26 percent of couples reported
that men make more of the decisions. Joint decision
Research is revealing trends that Americans are
making arrangements were reported by 31 percent of
moving away from patriarchal marriages. A study
conducted in 2000 by Amato, Booth, Rogers and
Stanley found that 61 percent husbands and 74
The Impact of Gender Role
percent of wives reported that husbands sometimes
Expectations on Relationships
had the final word, while 65 percent of husbands and There is empirical evidence that expectations can
70 percent of wives reported that wives sometimes
af ect couples in two ways: 1) They can serve
had the final word (Amato et al 2007). The Pew
as goal structures in which partners can shape
Research Center (2008) conducted a telephone
and guide their relationship or 2) They can create
survey to assess the decision-making process in
a “counterfactual” phenomenon, where people
American homes; 2250 adults were interviewed.
compare what has occurred within their relationship
Forty-three percent of all couples surveyed reported
to what might have occurred. In essence, the former
that the woman makes decisions in more areas than
can cause positive changes within relationships
out, men in 85 percent of those marriages were the
while the latter can create negative outcomes and
ones to do be emotionally unavailable. Gottman’s
disappointment. One study found that “unrealistic
research also found that men tend to take on a “flight”
expectations” was the major reason that 30 percent of response to conflict.
women respondents gave for their divorces in Texas
(Twogether in Texas Baseline Report on Marriage
Intimacy is another area where gender differences
can cause conflict in marriage. Research has
in the Lone Star State, 2008). Thus, it is essential
shown that men tend to define intimacy in terms of
for both members of the couple to understand the
shared activities while women focus more on verbal
gender role expectations of themselves and of their
communication in order to establish partner intimacy.
partners throughout the course of the marriage.
(Markman, Stanley, Blumberg 2001).
There is also considerable evidence
Differences by Subgroup
suggesting that men and women
Results from a 2007 survey conducted by the
have very different approaces to
Pew Research Center showed that respondents
solving problems and dealing with
reported that “shared household duties” were the
conflict (Hepp 2008).
third most important component for a successful
marriage (out of nine options). Coltrane (1996) and
There is also considerable evidence suggesting that
Shelton & John (1996) found that women, even
men and women have very different approaches
when they are employed full time, perform the bulk
to solving problems and dealing with conflict (Hepp
of routine housework and child care. Amato, Booth,
2008). Gottman (1999) found that in cases where
Johnson and Rogers (2007) also found that African-
one partner in the marriage felt emotionally shut
American and Latino husbands both performed more
housework than did white husbands. Interestingly,
the same researchers indicated that men and women
Scholars studying African American
between 1980 and 2000 have reported that wives
gender roles agree that gender role
have become happier with their husband’s work
distinctions among this population
around the house while husbands have become less
have been negated to a certain
happy (see graph below).
extent (Hill 2002).
(Hil 2002). Scholars argue that African American
According to a memo entitled “Gender Norms
women are taught to be independent and strong
and the Role of the Extended Family” based on
and to prepare for careers rather than to rely on
expert’s discussions at several research meetings
on Hispanic healthy marriages, it is important to
marriage for economic security (Collins, 1987 and
Higginbotham & Weber 1992, as cited in Hil ). The
examine traditional gender roles and family systems
literature contends that African American men, due to
in different populations to understand their impact
challenges regarding unemployment and low wages,
on couple dynamics (memo prepared by ACF,
are unable to assume traditional gender roles within
2005). Although there is research that indicates that
traditional Hispanic roles are not as predominant
their families (cf. Blake & Darling, 1994; Gibbs, 1988;
Hunter & Davis, 1992; W.J. Wilson, 1997, as cited in
within recent years (see results from the Amato,
Hil ). Practitioners should understand that an African
Booth, Johnson and Rogers study, 2007), there
is contradictory research showing that Hispanic
American’s individual upbringing and internal view
of gender roles wil influence the shaping of marital
men and women are influenced by traditional and
expectations regarding these roles.
idealized cultural expectations. Such traditional
values include a focus on the woman in the marriage
as a submissive and dependent mother figure rather
than a wife (“marianismo”) while the husband is
dominant and virile (“machisimo”). There is much
Amato, P. R., Booth, A., Johnson D.R., & Rogers, S.J.
discussion between scholars about the positive and
(2007). Alone Together How Marriage in America
negative outcomes that such traditions can create
is Changing, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
within the family system. The key is to recognize
Press (p. 148).
that the degree to which this ideology shapes the
Hispanic man and woman prior to their union is
Morin, Rich and D’Vera Cohn. “Women Call the
Shots at Home; Public Mixed Jobs”. Pew
going to provide the framework for each individual’s
expectations of their own gender role within the
Research Center. September 25, 2008. http://
marriage and for the roles of his or her partner.
African American Couples
Coltrane, Scott. (1996). Family Man: Fatherhood,
Housework and Gender Equity. New York:
Scholars studying African American gender roles
Oxford University Press.
agree that gender role distinctions among this
population have been negated to a certain extent
Gottman, John. The Seven Principles for Making
Marriage Work. Three Rivers Press, 1999. p. 37.
Harris, S.M., Glenn, N.D., Rappleyea, D.L., Diaz-
Loving, R., Hawkins, A.J., Daire, A.P., Osborne,
Wil iams, Lee and Heidi McBain (2006). Integrating
C., & Huston, T.L. (2008). Twogether in Texas:
gender on multiple levels: A Conceptual Model
Baseline Report on Marriage in the Lone Star
for Teaching Gender Issues in Family Therapy.
State, Austin, TX: Health and Human Services
Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 32 (3):
Hepp, Joy. “Opposite Sex Drives you Crazy-The
Causes.” CNN, May 28, 2008. Available online:
ht p:/ www.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/personal/05/28/ The National Healthy Marriage Resource Center
(NHMRC) would like to thank Rachel Derrington,
MSW and Nathan Woods of the Resource Center
Expert participants from the Supporting Healthy
for their contributions to this Fact Sheet. This
Marriage and Hispanic Healthy Marriage Initiative is a product of the NHMRC, led by co-directors
Joint Research Meeting held on September
Mary Myrick, APR, and Jeanette Hercik, PhD, and
12-13, 2005 in Washington, DC, and a research
project manager Patrick Patterson, MSW, MPH.
meeting held in conjunction with the Hispanic
Healthy Marriage National Conferences May 11,
2006, in San Antonio, TX. “Gender Norms and
the Role of Extended Family,” Memo prepared for
the Administration for Children and Families.
Hil , Shirley. “Teaching and doing gender in African
American families.” Sex Roles: A Journal of
Research (2002). ht p:/ findarticles.com/p/
Retrieved December 10, 2008.
PEW Research Center (2007). “Modern
marriage”. Retrieved June 12, 2009 from ht p:/
PEW Research Center (2008). “Women Cal the
Shots at Home: Public Mixed on Gender Roles
in jobs.” Retrieved June 12, 2009 from ht p:/
Shelton, Beth Anne, and Daphne John (1996). “The
Division of Household Labor.” Annual Review of
Sociology 22: 299-322.
U.S. Department of Labor, (2005).“Women in the
Labor Force” Retrieved 4/21/09 from ht p:/ www.