Wives Wield Decision Power in Marriage

Balance of Problem-Solving Power Weighs in Favor of Women

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on July 09, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

July 9, 2007 -- Men may rule the world but women rule the roost, according a new study that shows women wield considerably more decision-making power than men within marriages.

Researchers found that wives, on average, displayed more power than their husbands during problem-solving discussions, regardless of who brought up the topic of discussion.

And it’s not simply a case of women talking more than men.

“It wasn’t just that the women were bringing up issues that weren’t being responded to, but that the men were actually going along with what they said,” researcher Megan Murphy, assistant professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State University, says in a news release. “They were communicating more powerful messages, and men were responding to those messages by agreeing or giving in.”

“There’s been research that suggests that’s a marker of a healthy marriage - that men accept influence from their wives,” Murphy says.

Women Have Marriage Power

The study involved 72 married couples from Iowa who were observed and evaluated while they discussed problems in their relationship of their own choosing. The average age of the participants was about 33 and average length of marriage was seven years.

Researchers videotaped the discussions and then coded the couple’s behaviors according to a widely used interaction rating system.

The results showed that women appeared to have more power during the discussions in the form of domineering and dominant behaviors than their husbands, regardless of who brought up the topic.

Researchers say the findings contradict the current societal power structure.

“This study at least suggests that the marriage is a place where women can exert some power,” researcher David Vogel, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Iowa State, says in the release. “Whether or not it’s because of changing societal roles, we don’t know. But they are, at least, taking responsibility and power in these relationships.”

The study appears in the Journal of Counseling Psychology.

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Show Sources

SOURCES: Vogel, D. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 2007; vol 54: pp 165-177. News release, Iowa State University.

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