If you are thinking about getting married, St. Mary’s College of Maryland Assistant Professor of Psychology Renée Peltz Dennison would like to offer this advice: be very clear beforehand about what your expectations are for marriage.
In Dennison’s recent study, “The Role of Couple Discrepancies in Cognitive and Behavioral Egalitarianism in Marital Quality,” she and colleagues Brian Ogolsky and James Monk of the University of Illinois at Urbana‑Champaign surveyed over 200 newlyweds to find out how husbands’ and wives’ perceptions of gender roles affect marital satisfaction.
They found that an uneven division of household chores negatively affected wives’ marital satisfaction, especially when wives felt the roles should be more equal. “We found that, for wives, if there is a discrepancy between expectations and what’s actually playing out in the marriage, wives end up being significantly less satisfied in the marriage,” said Dennison. “For husbands, on the other hand, sharing household tasks doesn’t seem to be directly related to their marital satisfaction. It is possible that they do not perceive a discrepancy or that they buy into the idea that women should do the ‘second shift.’”
Talking about expectations early on can help put couples’ marriage on the right track, but follow through, Dennison advises, is key. “Talk about whether you believe in traditional gender roles or more egalitarian gender roles, and then set up patterns that reflect your beliefs about marriage,” she said. “Often in the absence of actively working on making your day-to-day tasks match your egalitarian beliefs, things can slide back into more traditional gender roles.”
A majority of the newlyweds sampled were Maryland residents and recruited through county marriage records. Dennison said that undergraduate research assistants were critical in bringing the research to fruition. “The students travelled to six different county court houses in Maryland to obtain marriage records,” Dennison noted. “They helped in recruiting participants, designing the online survey taken by the couples, and analyzing the data once the couples’ responses came in.” Dennison also noted that students are now helping with drafting manuscripts to submit for publication.
Dennison and her students have just finished collecting a second wave of data from the same Maryland couples. The goal, Dennison said, is to follow the couples over time to see how the things they reported in the first year of marriage affect outcomes in their later years of marriage.
The study is available online today in the journal Sex Roles.