The starting point for the research project was the idea that what counts for women is the emotional quality of a marriage. It has been assumed that men will do more "emotional work" within a modernist "companionate" form of marriage, one in which the husband and wife share similar work and family responsibilities; in which husbands do not have distinctive paternal authority; and in which traditional concepts of masculinity are absent. (pp.1322-23).
The project's authors were aware, though, of research showing that traditional women were happier in their marriages than their modernist counterparts (p.1323). They therefore wanted to test a theory that what was missing in the modernist marriage was not so much traditional gender differentiation, but the institutional support for marriage available to more traditional women (such as from churches) and a focus on equity (a perception of justice in marital arrangements, even where roles differ) rather than equality (the same division of household roles).
The researchers did, in fact, find that institutional support and a focus on equity rather than equality improved the level of female satisfaction in marriage. However, these factors weren't enough to overcome the disadvantages of modernist "egalitarian" marriages. A traditional, gendered form of family life still produced the highest levels of female happiness within marriage.
Here are some of the results of the research project in the authors' own words:
Model 1 indicates that wives who hold egalitarian gender attitudes, who work parttime, and who take a larger share of the family breadwinning responsibilities are less happy. (p.1331)
Women who share high levels of church attendance and normative commitment with their husbands are happier than their peers. (p.1331)
... one reason that the companionate model has not gathered much institutional empirical support is that marital egalitarianism is also associated with lower levels of institutional commitment to marriage and with higher standards of equality, both of which seem to diminish women's chances of marital happiness. Nevertheless, even after controlling for institutional and equity factors, we still find no positive evidence for the companionate theory of marriage.
Indeed, Models 3 and 4 provide some support for the gender model of marriage insofar as women who earn a greater-than-average percentage of couple income ... and whose husbands take up a greater share of household labor report greater unhappiness. In other words ... women who live in marriages characterized by less gendered patterns of earning and housework are less happy in their marriages. (p.1331-32)
Contrary to expectations of the companionate theory, Model 1 of Table 4 indicates that women's gender role liberalism and women's labor force participation are associated with lower levels of women's happiness with the affection and understanding they receive from their husbands. (p.1332)
This last finding is especially noteworthy. The researchers did find strong evidence that female happiness in a marriage depends on the "emotion work" undertaken by husbands. However, contrary to expectations it was men in traditional marriages who did more such work and whose wives reported greater satisfaction with such work:
Men who are married to more traditional-minded women and to homemakers ... are more likely to devote themselves to spending quality time with their wives.
Table 5 is also significant because it provides additional evidence for the gender model of marriage and against the companionate model of marriage. Models 1 through 3 indicate that no measure of egalitarianism in practice or belief is associated with higher levels of men spending quality time with their wives. Indeed, in keeping with the gender model of marriage, wives' gender egalitarianism and work outside of the home leads to less positive emotion work on the part of husbands ...
Thus, consistent with the gender model of marriage, it would appear that women who are in marriages that are characterized by more traditional gender beliefs and practices are happier with the emotion work they receive and do receive more such emotion work from their husbands. (p.1337-38)
So take a bow traditional men! It seems that you combine longer hours at work, longer hours with your children and longer hours of quality time with your wives.
Finally, it's worth quoting a few of the researcher's conclusions. They remark, for instance, that:
adherence to traditional beliefs and practices regarding gender seems to be tied not only to global marital happiness but also - suprisingly enough - to expressive patterns of marriage ...
We also find evidence for the institutional model of marriage, which stresses the importance of social and normative support for marriage. Wives who share high levels of church attendance are more likely to report happiness with their husband's emotion work in marriage ...
In conclusion, our results suggest that the road to successful "new families" is more circuitous and difficult than originally thought. While it is true that changes in men's behaviour are required for this transformation, it also appears that contemporary couples could benefit from a heightened appreication of the role that shared religious commitments and normative commitments to marriage play in supporting women's marital quality and the expressive dimension of marital life.
Our results also suggest that more traditional beliefs and practices regarding gender play a positive role in the quality and expressive character of many women's marriages ... (pp. 1341-42)
This still leaves the question of why traditional marriages are happier on average than modernist ones, but I'll raise this for discussion in a later post.