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The role of communication, life role commitments, and sexist ideologies in dual-earner marriages
Sullivan, Catherine Mary
Hoffman, Mary Ann
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The dual earner family is now the norm among married couples of all races; yet research has shown that even dual-earner couples are not generally able to attain marital equality. This study investigated inequality in marital relationships as it related to wives' psychological distress and marital satisfaction by examining variables that appear to correspond with invisible power, namely the gendered ways men and women commit to various life roles, how they communicate in times of conflict, and the sexist ideologies that serve to shape these roles and behaviors. Participants were 287 married women who worked full-time outside the home and whose oldest child was under the age of six. The sample was predominantly White, highly educated and had a relatively high income. Participants completed a web-based survey, which included measures of relationship satisfaction, psychological distress, life role commitments, ambivalent sexism, constructive communication, and social support. Participants responded to several measures twice - once from their own perspective and once based on their perceptions of their husband's perspective. Results suggested that while the variables of interest, particularly constructive communication, predicted a large among of variance in relationship satisfaction, they only predicted a small amount of variance in psychological distress. The three variables that were found to predict unique variance in wives' reported marital satisfaction were constructive communication, wives' perceptions of their husband's commitment to the parental role, and wives' own commitment to the marital role. Findings support the importance of these variables for predicting women's reported marital satisfaction and the importance of examining these variables together. Overall, it was found that wives' perceptions of their husbands' perspective were more strongly predictive of wives' marital satisfaction than wives' own ratings. Results suggest that constructive communication is a particularly important tool for women in dual-earner marriages, a way that they are empowered to make marriage more satisfying and possibly as a protective factor or way to cope with what would otherwise be distressing. These findings can be used to inform the development of interventions to help dual-earner couples with young children.