Tuesday, June 21, 2011
A new study of newlyweds found that increases in workloads were associated with increases in marital satisfaction for both men and women. The researchers expected this to change when the newlyweds became parents, and indeed it did -- for men. For women who became parents, however, increases in the amount of time and energy they devoted to work were associated with increases in their marital satisfaction. The authors speculated that, once they become parents, husbands and wives might respond differently to changes in each other's workloads; fathers might spend more time on childcare when their wives face high demands at work.
This is important information for those of us trying to balance work and family. On the other hand, increasing numbers of people in the United States are neither married nor employed. Family structure has become a marker of class, and studies can cloak profound differences among different types of families. Unpacking this research requires reconsideration of the relationship between work, marriage, and class. First, limiting the examination to married mothers skews the study from the outset. The most elite women, as measured by education, have become the most likely to marry, a reversal of historical trends.
For two-career couples, women's workforce participation brings greater income and marital quality, along with greater pressure on men to help with the children.
Amato found, however, that the same did not hold true for working-class wives. The marital quality of couples in financial distress dropped significantly during the same 20 year period. This was in large part because women in less satisfying jobs who preferred to be home with the children have increasingly found that they have to work because their husbands cannot support them. More recent studies confirm that unemployed men, in contrast with both unemployed women and men with stable jobs, are less likely to help with either the children or the house, increasing their partners' unhappiness.
The new study, by focusing on newlyweds, largely misses these effects. . . . This study fails to show the class based increases in employment instability -- instability that in the long run discourages marriage and contributes to family instability. The fact that the middle class is successfully combining work and family roles says little about those for whom both work and marriage are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. While the Great Recession has at least temporarily decreased divorce rates, it has also lowered marriage rates. Any focus on newlyweds therefore is likely to include only those who can marry, and that overwhelmingly means the better educated with the best jobs. For the rest of the country, the prospects for marriage and jobs remain bleak -- so news about how to manage the tensions between work and family are not comforting.
Read the full post here.