Listen up, men. If you want to make your wife happy, you need to be engaged emotionally in your life together as a couple.
That's the word from two sociologists, W. Bradford Wilcox and Steven L. Nock, at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, who claim this is the single most important factor in a woman's marital happiness.
But here's the real shocker: The study also finds that the women who report the highest level of happiness with their marriages are those who have husbands who earn the lion's share of the family income so the women don't have to work outside the home.
Drawing on the National Survey of Families and Households, which sampled more than 5,000 couples around the United States, the Virginia study found that even among women who support egalitarian ideas--that is, those who think that men and women should both earn income and share housework equally--there is greater marital happiness when the husband earns 68 percent or more of the family income.
"Regardless of what married women say they believe about gender, they tend to have happier marriages when their husband is a good provider--provided that he is also emotionally engaged," Wilcox said. "I was very surprised to find that even egalitarian-minded women are happier when their marriages are organized along more gendered lines."
Here are the fascinating, albeit somewhat controversial, conclusions:
- The most important determinant of a woman's marital happiness is the emotional engagement of her husband. A wife cares most about how affectionate and understanding her husband is and how much quality time they spend together as a couple.
- Women who do not work outside the home report happier marriages and spend more quality time with their husbands.
- Women who have more traditional attitudes report more affection and understanding from their husbands. Such attitudes include the idea that women should take the lead in care of the home and family, while men take the lead in earning money.
- Commitment matters. Women who share with their husbands a strong commitment to a lifelong marriage are more likely to report that they are happy in their marriages and happy with the affection and understanding they receive from their husbands, compared with women who do not have such a commitment to marriage. Shared commitment seems to generate mutual trust and higher levels of emotional investment on the part of husbands, both of which are factors that promote marital happiness among women.
- Fairness also matters in shaping the quality and character of women's marriages. Married women are happier in their marriages when they think housework is divided fairly, and they perceive their marriage to be equitable. They also spend more quality time with their husbands when they think housework is divided fairly. What's fair? It's up to each couple, and it's not necessarily a 50-50 split.
"Conventional and academic wisdom now suggests that the 'best' marriages are unions of equals," Nock said. "Our work suggests that the reality is more complicated. Wives are surely sensitive to imbalances in routine tasks and efforts, as almost all research shows. However, we find that they are more concerned with their husband's investments in the emotional content of the marriage. We interpret our results to suggest that partners need to pay more attention to how their partners feel about their relationship and about marriage generally because equality does not necessarily produce equity."
The study findings were published in the journal Social Forces.