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Traditional Gender Roles Playing Smaller Role in Modern Matrimony

Shelley Panzarella

Watch out June and Ward, traditional marriage is rapidly evolving and research indicates that typical gender-based expectations in the household are becoming obsolete for couples as they make the decision to marry or cohabitate.

Dr. Connie Lappa, psychotherapist and adjunct professor at Robert Morris University and The University of Pittsburgh and Dr. Christine Whelan, visiting Assistant Professor in the University of Pittsburgh Department of Sociology share their findings on modern matrimony and the most successful relationships.

According to the Pew Research Center, numerous factors throughout time have been motivating the change in marriage norms.  One of these factors is an increased life expectancy rate.  Whelan finds, when surveying her students at the University of Pittsburgh, that 80-90% of twenty-something’s want to be “financially stable” before getting married. Lappa agrees, noting that couples “want to be able to contribute equally to the relationship...and establish stability before they get into some sort of legal commitment.”

When couples finally decide to say, “I do,” most decisions about the division of labor come on a couple by couple basis.   Power struggles and issues with responsibility typically come after a significant event such as the birth of a child.  At this point, Lappa explains, “with added responsibility, gender expectations often kick in.” Whelan and Lappa both agree that communication before, during and after marriage or children are vital.  Couples need to bargain how chores will be divided and why.  Increasingly, these chores are being assigned based on interest and ability instead of expectation.  This is a positive step toward a more egalitarian relationship, Whelan points out, “as long as we don’t set up a situation where the woman is going to be better at lots of things because she is a woman.”  Many same-sex couples have a more egalitarian relationship because their decisions are not based on pre-existing expectations rooted in gender. Couples should rely more on the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals when dividing household roles. 

Society and media play a large role in the expectations of both men and women when entering a relationship and/or marriage.  But, as Whelan notes, “this generation of young men especially have been raised with female role models of all sorts.”  For individuals, ideas about roles in the house will come from some societal pressure and media, but will largely derive from the atmosphere in which the individual was raised.  If a child was raised in a home where both parents worked and was witness to negotiation and communication by her parents, she will be more likely to emulate that in her own marriage or relationship.

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