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 of decision-making in the typical American home, women had the final say in 43% of couples — almost twice that of men. Yet 31% of couples volunteered the information that they share in the decision-making, a response that wasn't even listed on the survey.
Sociologist and gender studies expert Michael Kimmel of Stony Brook University-New York says the responses suggest the path for couples is "far grayer" these days as couples weave in more equality.
"There's far more fluidity in family decision-making around these topics than ever before, and that's the real news," he says. "Sometimes she makes the plans, sometimes he does. It's who has the spare time."
Kimmel offers three ways to interpret the findings: "One is 'Only 43% of women make most of the decisions.' Another way is 'Couples are in their homes navigating and negotiating equality far more than ever before.' A third way to read it is 'In both very traditional couples and in very egalitarian couples, women's sphere of influence has always been the family purse. She pays the bills, decides which dinner parties they go to. He goes along with family projects.' "
Women hold purse strings
Tiffany Winbush, 26, of Manhattan has been married for 16 months after dating her husband almost four years. She says she manages the family's finances because she has always been more budget-conscious.
"I balance my checkbook every day, and my husband is a little bit more free," she says. "I decided to take the initiative when the bills came in."
That move was fine with her husband, 25-year-old Amos Winbush III.
"I never had a great interest in it, and it's tedious to go through the bills … she likes doing that sort of thing. I completely relinquished all of that to her," he says. "We go over bills when she's paying the bills."
She says they never sat down and had a conversation about dividing up their decision-making. "Everything just really fell in place and has worked out thus far."
In the Indianapolis family of Kathleen Schuckel, 45, Greg Andrews, 43, and their two sons, the division of labor is fairly typical.
"I've tended to be the person who handles bills and finances and taxes," Andrews says. "The roles have ended up being more traditional, where she's more planning for meals and making sure laundry has been done. Neither of us would make a major purchase without talking to the other."
Schuckel agrees. "I can't imagine making a major purchase without talking to Greg first," she says. "We're pretty flexible and have similar temperaments; after 18 years of marriage, we know where each other stands."
Making decisions equally is the "socially desired response" for couples today, but it's not necessarily the reality, says Megan Murphy, director of the marriage and family therapy program at Iowa State University-Ames and co-author of a study of 72 couples that also found women in charge at home.