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What Makes Wives Happy?

Both New and Old Ideas of Marriage, Study Shows
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Traditional Roles continued...

University of Virginia colleague and study co-author Steven L. Nock, PhD, tells WebMD that he is less of a traditionalist than Wilcox when it comes to views on marriage and family. He says his views may also differ regarding what the new findings mean.

Although the study attempted to control for family income, Nock says he believes the vast majority of the working women in the study had jobs outside the home because they felt they had to for economic reasons.

He says working is becoming less of an option for many married women, and more of an economic necessity.

"The average married couple's income in the U.S. is still less than $60,000, and that is for couples where both partners work," he says. "If everyone is working more than they want to it isn't surprising that marriages may be affected."

Equal Partners

Psychologist and couple's therapist Peter Larson, PhD, says a sense of equality within the marriage is a critical predictor of happiness, regardless of whether the participants adopt gender roles perceived as traditional or nontraditional.

Larsen says in a study of the 5,000 happiest and 5,000 unhappiest couples from a 20,000 couple dataset, he and colleagues found that four of five couples who perceived themselves as equal partners within the marriage considered their marriages happy.

Only one of five couples who considered their marriages traditional, meaning that the husband tended to make decisions unilaterally, had happy marriages.

This was the case regardless of whether the women worked outside the home or not.

Larson notes that his own marriage might be viewed as traditional -- when it is anything but -- because his wife is a stay-at-home mom to their three small children.

"She has a master's degree in psychology and worked to put me through grad school, and we make decisions together," he says. "It looks traditional from the outside, but we treat each other with equality. That is the key."

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