Assessment of the View that Conjugal Roles Have Become Equal

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Different sociologists hold different perspectives regarding the equality of conjugal roles. Various researchers have assessed different dimensions of equality and inequality in conjugal roles.

Some researchers have focused on the division of labor in households, specifically the assignment of domestic responsibilities and the time spent by husbands and wives on specific tasks. Others have attempted to assess the power dynamics within marriage. Willmott and Young, along with Gillian Dunne, argue for equality in conjugal roles. However, several sociologists including Ann Oakley, Ferri and Smith, Duncombe and Marsden, and Edgel have conducted research in this area and found limited evidence of equal sharing of domestic tasks between couples.

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According to Willmott and Young, conjugal roles have achieved equality. In the 1970s, they introduced the concept of the symmetrical family, which emphasized similarity between husband and wife’s roles. Within the household, the couple collaborated in both work and time management. Husbands were observed to be more involved in household tasks, raising children, and making decisions related to family matters.

According to Willmott and Young, 72% of husbands assist with household tasks. They believe that this shift from segregated to joint conjugal roles primarily occurs when wives distance themselves from their female family members and involve husbands more in the family. Sociologist Ann Oakley disagrees with Willmott and Young’s perspective. In 1974, Oakley pointed out that the 72% figure included husbands who contributed minimally, often only completing one household chore per week.

During the 1970’s, a study was conducted on 40 married women, aged between 20 and 30, who had one or more children under the age of 5. The sample consisted of equal proportions of working class and middle class women. The study revealed that there was a higher level of equality in domestic tasks among the middle class women compared to the working class women. However, in both classes, very few men were highly involved in housework and childcare. It was found that the majority of wives considered these tasks to be their own responsibility, with only 15% of men participating at a high level in these activities.

According to sociologists like Ann Oakley, women have begun to carry a double load by maintaining their primary responsibility for household chores while also being required to have paid jobs. Jonathan Gershury shares Oakley’s view and opposes the notion that conjugal roles have become equal. He notes that the dual burden may lead to greater inequality between husbands and wives as more and more women experience it. Gershury believes that the dual burden arises from a delayed adjustment, where there’s a time delay between women entering the workforce and men adjusting by increasing their share of domestic work.

Gershury (1992) examined changes in the amount of work hours for men and women from 1974/5 to 1987. The analysis revealed a progressive rise in men’s involvement in domestic tasks. This increase was most notable when wives were employed full-time, as husbands in such cases doubled their time spent on cooking and cleaning. Gershury’s findings indicated that while women still primarily handle domestic labor, there is a gradual shift towards more equality, although true equality remains a distant objective.

Stephen Edgell conducted a study in 1980, in which he interviewed 38 middle class couples to examine the distribution of household tasks and power dynamics. He discovered that men primarily controlled crucial decisions concerning finance, relocation, and car purchases, indicating a lack of equality in these areas.

Women primarily controlled less significant decisions such as interior decoration, children’s clothing, and expenditures on food and household items. Conversely, men were assigned infrequent chores rather than the everyday tasks that women dominated. However, Edgell’s study revealed a trend in childcare allocation. Despite none of the couples surveyed sharing housework equally, 44 of them…

According to Ferri and Smith, only 6% of parents shared joint responsibility for childcare. However, they also found that there was no equality in decision-making when it came to childcare. In their study, they examined the lives of all individuals born in Great Britain during a specific week in 1958, which included 2800 fathers and 3192 mothers.

The survey revealed that it remained uncommon for fathers to assume primary responsibility for childcare in families where both parents work, families where neither parent works, or families where only the woman works. This once again demonstrates inequality in marital roles. Therefore, Ferri and Smith’s findings contradict the statement and reaffirm the presence of inequality in marital roles. Many women share Ferri and Smith’s perspective that it is they, not their partners, who are accountable for childcare. A study performed by Jean Duncombe and Dennis Marsden between 1993 and 1995, which involved interviewing 40 couples, discovered that the majority of women expressed dissatisfaction with men’s “emotional distance.”

The men perceive their primary responsibility as earning money, while many women view themselves as responsible for emotional labor. Duncombe and Marsden state that women often have to manage a triple burden: paid employment, household chores, childcare, and emotional labor. As a result, women in relationships tend to take on more conjugal responsibilities, contradicting the notion of equality. However, money management is typically shared more evenly.

In 1989, Jan Pahl conducted a study on 102 couples and identified different systems of money management. These systems ranged from a housekeeping allowance system, where husbands give fixed sums of money to their wives for household expenses and control the remaining funds, to a pooling system where both partners equally share responsibility and control over money management. Carolyn Vogler and Jan Pahl conducted a later study in 1994, which revealed that regardless of the money management system used, men tended to have greater control. Vogler and Pahl noted a trend towards more equality in access to and control of family finances. However, research indicates that the partner with the highest income ultimately holds the most influence in family decision-making.

Gillian Dunne argues that conjugal roles are more evenly divided in same-sex households compared to heterosexual households. In her study in 1999, she observed 37 cohabiting lesbian couples. The women in these relationships believed that their shared gender identity and absence of traditional gender roles facilitated a fair distribution of tasks. On the other hand, Dunne discovered that the prevailing notion of male dominance in relationships often leads to unequal division of labor in heterosexual households.

However, the evidence presented clearly indicates that there is minimal support for Willmott and Young’s study indicating the equality of conjugal roles. Various studies including Ann Oakley’s in 1974, Edgell’s ‘decision making’ study in 1980, Ferri and Smith’s study, and Duncombe and Marsdon’s study in 1993/1995 all propose that conjugal roles have not achieved equality. Conversely, Gillian Dunne suggests that household tasks and childcare are equal in single-sex relationships but not in heterosexual relationships.

According to Jan Pahl, Gershury’s research, and Edgell’s study on childcare, there is a trend towards greater equality in conjugal roles. While conjugal roles have not yet achieved complete equality, the evidence indicates that they are indeed becoming more equal.

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Assessment of the View that Conjugal Roles Have Become Equal. (2017, Apr 11). Retrieved from

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