j0321176.jpg Welcome to the Equity in Marriage Consciousness Raising Project


The purpose of this site is to increase awareness of the
importance of equity in marriage, and to promote dialog
about this topic and aboutpossible solutions to the
problem of inequity in marriage.It is part of my class
project for Women's Studies 101 at
Wisconsin University Colleges Online.
I highly recommend this class to anyone interested in
learning more about gender equality and
inequality in our culture and why women's studies
programs are an absolute necessity.

Please check out the information on this page, try any of the links you find interesting, and discuss your
opinions of this topic on the discussion board (button on top of this page, right side). I was a bit
surprised by some of the data I found during the research for the site, and I hope you find it
interesting and useful, too. Again, welcome! --Darcie DiBasio


This is a topic that many of my friends and relatives told me was "obsolete", "redundant" and "not needed, this isn't the 1950's!". I've been told that equity in marriage - that is, an equal partnership where responsibilities and benefits are perceived to be fair - is not even an issue for Generation X. The images we see on TV today aren't Ward and June Cleaver, he in his suit coming home from work to decide family issues, she in her dress and pearls, cooking, cleaning, and bringing Ward his coffee. No, today's shows and films are full of dedicated career women, double-income couples, and cohabitating couples; most women on popular shows work full time. This reflects the U.S. Census(1) finding that 57% of all American females over the age of 15 work (72% of men in the same group are employed), and 80% of all American mothers work, including 64% of mothers who have a preschooler at home. While a lot has changed today, especially in
  • the labor market - more women work, and discrimination laws are on the books (although women still earn $0.67 for each $1.00 a man earns, when comparing full-time permanent employees who worked an entire year)(1)
  • education - more women are earning higher degrees than in the past (but males are still more likely to be the tenured instructors)(1, 6, 10), and
  • politics (although women make up just 16% of the legislature)(6, 10)

what hasn't made much progress at all is the institution of marriage.

What we don't see in the fictional TV shows or movies are the things happening behind the scenes, within a marriage, the things that haven't changed all that much since the days of Leave it to Beaver. Think about marriages you know about, and ask yourself "who is doing what?" After working all day, who is doing the housework? Who has more free time? Who is responsible for the childrearing and care? Who gets to decide whether or not to get a family pet, and if so, what kind? Who will clean up after the pet? Who decides major purchases? Who is responsible for buying a birthday present for his Aunt Alma? For her mom? Who organizes family activities?

Some facts
  • In most marriages in America, inequity is a fact. More women than men feel that they are not being treated fairly within their marriage, and research shows that their perceptions are usually based on reality(2).
  • Married women suffer from depression at a rate three times higher than that of married men. This is not due to any emotional, physical, or behavioral differences between men and women: we know this, because there is very little difference in rates of depression between single men and single women. The difference is caused by something going on within marriage(3).
  • When a relationship is perceived as inequitable, the partner putting more into the relationship than s/he is getting out of it will be dissatisfied with the relationship(2).
  • Another fact: over 50% of American marriages end in divorce(4).
Finally: Divorce is initiated by women 67% of the time(4).

Do you think these facts are related?

Isn't it time to make the issue of equity in marriage a priority?


Inequity can be defined as a situation in which an individual does not feel s/he is being treated fairly; s/he is putting more into the relationship than her or his partner, and benefiting less. In a marriage, the contributions and benefits include "love, sex, services, money, time, and status"(5).
  • When a woman marries, 14 hours of housework are added to her week; married men do 90 minutes more housework than single men(6).
  • Married women do 70% of household chores(6).
  • This does not change when a married woman works full time, when a woman earns more than her husband, or when a man cuts down on his hours at work(6).
  • The only time a woman does decrease the number of hours spent on housework is when she feels that her income has increased enough relative to her prior income (not relative to her husband's income) so that she may now pay to have tasks done (e.g., hiring household help, buying carry-out food) and get some relief(7).
  • What has changed over the last 30 years or so is that the expectation that a married woman will contribute to the household income was added on top of the 27 weekly hours of housework(6) she was already expected to do(6, 10).

This doesn't sound fair, does it?

What most people don't realize is that there it's even worse than that, because there are two types of household chores, and it has been found that inequity in the household distribution of one type of chore is actually linked to depression and stress-related illness for married women, the higher levels of marital dissatisfaction for women, and divorce initiated by women. The type of household chore that is making American women sick is sometimes referred to as a "low control task", as opposed to a "high control task"(2).

  • Low control tasks include washing dishes, grocery shopping, cooking, serving meals, running errands, cleaning, and laundry. These are tasks associated with "women's work", a "caregiver" role. These are repetitive tasks that need to be done continually throughout the day or week, usually at a specific time. There isn't much of a feeling of accomplishment after finishing one of these tasks: almost as soon as it is done, the results disappear, and the task needs to be done again. The person doing the task can't control when the task is done (dinner can't be served at 10:00 am or 11:00 pm; the laundry must be done today if someone wants to wear a favorite outfit tomorrow; dry cleaning must be picked up during store hours). Notice that these tasks involve taking care of someone else in a personal way, by providing food, clothing, sheets and towels, a sanitary toilet, a clear spot on the sofa to sit, or a cup to drink out of(2,6).

  • High-control tasks include raking the leaves, repairing a leaky faucet, changing the oil on the car, fixing a sticking door, trimming trees, and changing the furnace filter. These are "as needed" jobs that the worker can do when he wants to; as one can readily see, high-control tasks are the traditionally "male" tasks. The oil should be changed, but the job can wait a couple of days. The garbage should go out, but if it's missed this week, it can all go next week. The family's nutrition, hygiene, health, or safety won't be changed if one of these tasks is put off: nothing on this list involves meeting the personal needs of anyone in the family. After completing one of these tasks, there is a sense of accomplishment, something to show that doesn't immediately disappear. The individual tasks aren't repeated daily, and no one does all of these tasks every day. High control tasks sometimes involve power tools, and can then be considered as needing a higher skill level then, say, washing dishes or doing laundry(2,6).

The reason that an understanding of the two types of tasks is important is this: the two factors that have been found to most affect a person's perception of their marital relationship as unfair are

1) division of low-control household tasks, and
2) decision making power (2).

Of these two factors, the division of low-control tasks is the one that affects the marital relationship and the perception of parity the most(2).


There are three model arrangements into which most marriages can be classified. Not every marriage will fit one model exactly, but most marriages will meet one definition better than the other two definitions. Two models of marriage have inequity built right into the definition. These two models are the Head/Complement model and the Jr Partner/Sr Partner models, and couples whose marriages fit these patterns may have difficulty bringing parity into their relationship. Unfortunately, these two types comprise the majority of American marriages, and this pattern may be contributing to the high rates of depression among married women, and the high number of divorces initiated by women.

In this model, the head of the household is the husband who has authority for all decisions. This model places the husband in a parent or adult role, with his wife as child/dependent. His job is to earn the family's income. The complement is the wife, who does not have a job outside of the home, and is completely responsible for everything connected to the home life and children; she is also responsible for serving him (bringing food, drink, or slippers to him, arranging his underwear drawer, scheduling his appointments) like a private assistant, and caring for him emotionally. Due to the nature of her responsibilities, she works more hours than her husband, doing much housework and childcare while he is at work, continuing her work when he is home, while adding the component of husband-care. She usually does not get weekends off, although he may. This model is rare, since most American women work for wages at least part-time(6).

Junior Partner/Senior Partner
In this model, both husband and wife work, but his job is considered "primary" and counts more. It is the wife who will have to take off time from work to take care of the children's needs or deal with home repairs. If he decides to take a relocation offer, she will have to quit her job and move. Just like the wife in the Head/Complement model, she is responsible for all household labor and childcare-related activities. If her job is full time on top of the 30-40 hours of housework and childcare, she is working a total of 80+ hours a week, while her husband spends on average 10 hours on household chores and works 40, for a total of 50 hours a week. He is the head of household, with more decision-making power than his wife. This is the most common model of marriage in America today. Note that the relationship roles assigned are not adult-adult, but adult or parent (husband) to child (wife)(6).

Equal Partners - in this extremely rare type of marriage arrangement, both husband and wife view household chores as work that has to get done, and they negotiate responsibilities. They may take turns being the primary earner while the other partner works part-time or not at all for a period of time. Or they may both be employed and share the responsibilities at home in a way that they both agree is fair. The key is that household management and other family topics are discussed freely. Neither partner is "in charge" - this is a shared management system of two people in an adult-adult relationship(6).

When housework is divided along gender lines (women doing low-control work while men do the high-control work) and women must do 2/3 of the housework despite outside employment obligations, men benefit: they don't have to do low-control tasks, they have more free time for hobbies, recreation and friends, and they enjoy more power in the relationship. The wife in such a situation suffers.

The documented effects of unfairness in household work include:
  • The risk for the wife in such a relationship to suffer from clinical depression is increased(2).
  • Primary responsibility for low-control tasks are correlated with symptoms that are associated with chronic stress(2),
    including high blood pressure, headaches, insomnia, muscle aches, loss of sex drive, heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome, memory impairment, irritability, inability to concentrate, weight gain or loss, moodiness, restlessness, and exacerbation of existing conditions such as diabetes and asthma.
  • Arguments and strife increase(2).
  • The wife is more likely to be unhappy, dissatisfied and discontented with the marriage than the husband(2).
  • The odds for the marriage to end in divorce are increased, as women who feel that they are unfairly stuck with the majority of low-control tasks are more likely to initiate divorce proceedings than women who perceive that household labor is fairly distributed(2).


  • When couples share decision-making, their relationship is perceived by both as equitable, and both partners are more satisfied with the marriage(2).
  • When couples discuss and negotiate the fair division of household responsibilities, rather than assuming that household work is "women's work" and the husband can be the "helper", wives report a perception of fairness(2).
  • Studies have found that "the highest levels of marital satisfaction were reported by more egalitatian couples, with the perception of equity being the crucial element that contributed to greater marital satisfaction"(2).
  • An interesting link might be found in the fact that the highest rate of divorce in the U.S. occurs among people who consider themselves conservative Christians and believe that husbands are supposed to be in charge of the family while wives should be submissive. The lowest rate of divorce is among atheists and agnostics, who typically are more egalitarian in viewpoint(8).
  • Feeling happy with one's partner and having a high level of marital satisfaction are self-explanatory benefits, which lead to another benefit: the decreased risk of divorce. This is a benefit because married people's physical health is generally better than that of single people(9). The rate of depression is higher in single women and single men than in married women, but three times higher in married women than in married men - in other words, marriage provides a very good buffer from depression for men, but not so much for women(3).


People are "raised" by the village, so to speak: a child learns about the roles and expectations of her gender with every experience and observation. This is called gender socialization(6, 13).

Children start their gender socialization by watching the behavior of their parents and extended family. Further lessons come from TV, movies, music, computer content and games, school, peers, books, politics, news media, and advertisements. Children quickly learn the differences between how women and men act and interact with others. They also become aware of the relative status of men and women in our society, who is in charge, and who is subordinate. Gender socialization doesn't stop with childhood, but is reinforced every day throughout one's lifetime. The lessons are internalized, and become an essential, usually unquestioned part of a person's outlook on life, behavior, preferences, and personal identity(6, 8, 13).
  • As soon as a baby is born, people say about a newborn boy, "He looks so strong!", and about a newborn girl, "Oh, she's so delicate!" despite the fact that the sex of clothed newborns is not apparent, apart from the color of their blankets(10). He will be in blue, she in pink; as they grow, she will be given dolls and kitchen sets, and he will be given trucks and remote control toy building sets - all a part of gender socialization.
  • When it comes to assigning chores in the home, girls are given low-control tasks - dishes, laundry, dusting, cleaning the bathroom - while boys are given high-control tasks - mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage(6, 10, 13).
  • Girls typically must put in more hours of housework than boys, and girls are given four times as much work to do in homes where both parents work - the female children are clearly put to use in taking some of the stress off of their working mother while the males in the household enjoy more free time (6,13).
  • Patterns such as these set in childhood are likely to be maintained in adulthood. According to a recent study, men who were assigned low-control tasks as children are more likely to participate fairly in doing housework as adults(11).

When two people have been socialized to believe that the things that need to be done in order to live happily in a healthy home - cleaning, cooking, straightening, shopping, laundry and ironing, errands, polishing, vacuuming - are "women's work", and they marry, what is to be expected? Exactly what actually happens: no matter how many hours a woman is employed as a wage earner, she comes home and does a second shift, being responsible for a minimum 70% of the housework (6, 10).

Furthermore, when these same two people have also been socialized to see men as the head of the family, the dominant family member, the ultimate authority with veto power (as in business, politics, and religion), and women as subordinate dependents who serve their husband(6, 10, 13), the "expected" also happens. An adult woman who made her own career, home, recreational, and financial decisions before marriage is now entering into a contract in which society says her husband is her boss in every aspect of life. Even couples who see their relationship as a partnership of equals sometimes find themselves behaving in ways that go against their beliefs, due to the deep internalization of gender socialization(2, 6, 10, 12).

Power in marriage means the ability of one partner to influence the behavior of the other, to be dominant in decision making, and to have veto power over joint decisions(2, 6, 12). Our society equates financial net worth with personal importance, status, and overall power (2, 6, 10). This lesson is learned at a very young age, and reinforced constantly in almost every aspect of our culture. When this message is combined with the socialized expectation that someone has to be "in charge" and that this someone should be a man, it is not surprising that both men and women expect the husband to be "in charge" of making important decisions(2, 6, 10).


  • Even when a couple professes belief in having an egalitarian relationship, the behavior does not match the rhetoric. In these marriages, the men spend no more time doing household chores than in marriages where the couple believes that women should be responsible for the vast majority of household chores(2, 6, 10). This held true for highly educated, high-status dual career couples (2) and in "Generation X" couples(12), two populations associated with egalitarian viewpoints.

  • Additionally, research shows that even couples who believed that their marriage roles were not traditional still assigned the husband the prominent role in decision making(22). Husbands used that power by refocusing discussions, by ignoring areas of conflict such as household chore inequality, by interrupting their wives, and by minimizing their wives' ideas(2,13).

  • When women do make decisions, the decisions are centered on children- and household related matters, such as which type of vacuum cleaner to purchase, whereas men dominate decision-making in higher priority areas such as major purchases, where the family will live, where and when the family will vacation, how the chores will be split, what kind of pet the family may have (even when he won't be taking care of the pet), and who can spent how much on what. Men also maintain veto power over decisions related to the children and household chores(2, 6, 10).

  • Men who report agreement with feminist objectives over-estimate the amount of household chores and childcare that they perform: their behavior does not match their own beliefs(10).

  • Both men and women view the husband as a "helper" - a volunteer who helps his wife at work that she is supposed to be doing. It is she who is responsible for the household chores: organizing, setting standards, selecting tools and products, sometimes supervising or checking the work, performing the tasks, and knowing all the things that have to be done in the household. This is true even if the wife works more hours at paid employment than her husband, and true even if she earns more than her husband(6).

  • Even men who don't think that it is fair that their their wife is doing 90% of the low-control tasks in addition to working full time do not increase the time they spend on low-control tasks. A not uncommon response from men is to claim that their wife has higher standards for cleanliness, that "she likes to do it", and that "I'm just inept when it comes to doing that kind of stuff, I can't learn how"(2, 6, 10).


The problem of inequity in marriage is not just a personal problem to be solved by women and men who are in such marriages: it is a problem caused by the way our culture views women and men, and the status of women in our culture. While individuals who are considering marriage and couples already married should discuss the issues of fairness in their own relationship and work on negotiating fair distribution of power and household work, action is more critically needed on a larger scale. In order to bring about culture-wide change, so that equity in marriage would be the norm rather than the exception, the underlying causes need to be addressed.

Increase Awareness of the Issue
  • Visit this site's discussion board and brainstorm with other participants.
  • Tell others about the site and ask them to join in the discussion.
  • Research topics related to gender equity and equity in marriage, and share the information.
  • Talk to your friends, family, and colleagues about the issues involved with equity in marriage.
  • Take this class or a woman's studies class at your local university.

Help Fix Gender Socialization

  • Provide a role model for children, teens, and young adults in demonstrating that housework and decision making doesn't come with pink or blue labels, and that men and women can negotiate solutions fair to everyone.
  • When you see media examples of gender socialization showing low-control tasks as "women's work" and only men or boys doing things involving technical, scientitic, mathematical, or engineering fields, send an email, make a phone call, or write a letter! Some examples: toy advertising, Clip-art (do a search on "housework" and see what you find in clip art!), movies and television, magazines. I just sent an email off to Target letting them know what I thought of their gender-based toy advertising: kitchen sets and dolls for girls, and kits to build remote helicopters, chemistry sets, and "outdoor activities" for boys!
  • If you have children:
  • Take a close look at how you are assigning chores. Are boys and girls doing the same amount of work? Same amount of time? Are the tasks assigned along gender lines, or without regard to gender? (Are boys washing dishes, girls mowing the lawn, as frequently as the reverse?)
  • What are your children learning, by your example, about gender roles, status, decision making, household work, and fairness?