Women have the upper hand at home, a new Pew Research Center study suggests. But is it because the house and children always have been women's territory, or is gender equality making its way into the family household?
The answer is as mixed as the data,experts say.
Of 1,260 individuals surveyed in four areas ofdecision-making in the typical American home, women had the final say in 43% ofcouples — almost twice that of men. Yet 31% of couplesvolunteered the information that they share in the decision-making, a responsethat wasn't even listed on the survey.
Sociologist and gender studies expertMichael Kimmel of Stony Brook University-New York says the responses suggestthe path for couples is "far grayer" these days as couples weave in moreequality.
"There's far more fluidity in family decision-making aroundthese topics than ever before, and that's the real news," he says. "Sometimesshe makes the plans, sometimes he does. It's who has the sparetime."
Kimmel offers three ways to interpret the findings: "One is 'Only43% of women make most of the decisions.' Another way is 'Couples are in theirhomes navigating and negotiating equality far more than ever before.' A thirdway to read it is 'In both very traditional couples and in very egalitariancouples, women's sphere of influence has always been the family purse. She paysthe bills, decides which dinner parties they go to. He goes along with familyprojects.' "
Women hold purse strings
Tiffany Winbush,26, of Manhattan has been married for 16 months after dating her husband almostfour years. She says she manages the family's finances because she has alwaysbeen more budget-conscious.
"I balance my checkbook every day, and myhusband is a little bit more free," she says. "I decided to take the initiativewhen the bills came in."
That move was fine with her husband, 25-year-oldAmos Winbush III.
"I never had a great interest in it, and it's tediousto go through the bills … she likes doing that sort of thing. Icompletely relinquished all of that to her," he says. "We go over bills whenshe's paying the bills."
She says they never sat down and had aconversation about dividing up their decision-making. "Everything just reallyfell in place and has worked out thus far."
In the Indianapolis familyof Kathleen Schuckel, 45, Greg Andrews, 43, and their two sons, the division oflabor is fairly typical.
"I've tended to be the person who handles billsand finances and taxes," Andrews says. "The roles have ended up being moretraditional, where she's more planning for meals and making sure laundry hasbeen done. Neither of us would make a major purchase without talking to theother."
Schuckel agrees. "I can't imagine making a major purchase withouttalking to Greg first," she says. "We're pretty flexible and have similartemperaments; after 18 years of marriage, we know where each otherstands."
Making decisions equally is the "socially desired response" forcouples today, but it's not necessarily the reality, says Megan Murphy,director of the marriage and family therapy program at Iowa StateUniversity-Ames and co-author of a study of 72 couples that also found women incharge at home.
"When it comes down to it, I really don't think we'rethere yet," she says. "People really don't make decisions equally. Women tendto make more decisions in terms of the home and taking care of the home andtaking care of the kids. Men make more decisions in terms of the finances andaround jobs."
Pew also looked outside the home and found many people arejust as comfortable dealing with a man or woman in certain jobs, includingdoctor, banker, lawyer, police officer, airline pilot, teacher andsurgeon.
Linda Basch, president of the New York City-based NationalCouncil for Research on Women, a network of research and policy centers, saysthe poll's responses appear to mirror our changing society.
"It showsthat increasingly men, as well as women, see women taking on leadershippositions and non-traditional roles, and see women having important leadershiptraits," she says.
Men are still preferred in some jobs
Among specific jobs, findings are mixed. Men were preferred in somepositions, such as airline pilot, surgeon, police officer and attorney, whilewomen were favored for elementary school teacher and banker. With doctors,women favored a woman, and men preferred a man.
"It's also still the casewhen we see women in these non-traditional positions, and we still use the word'woman' as an adjective — a dentist or a woman dentist. Withmen, we don't notice gender as much as we do with women," Kimmel says. "It'snot necessarily negative, but it's a way those stereotypes still float aroundin our heads."
Psychology professor David Vogel of Iowa State was thelead author of the study published last year in the Journal of CounselingPsychology that showed wives had greater marital power at home. He saysgender is intertwined in any discussion of power andrelationships.
"There's a myth out there that men are the heads ofhouseholds and make the decisions, and that's it, but real life isn't likethat, from what I see," says Murphy, Vogel's co-author. "It's more of agive-and-take and a negotiation. The vast majority of what I see is a much morenuanced decision-making process."
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