Washington The marriages of women who work outside the home are more likely to stay together than the marriages of those who don't, according to new studies.
The findings offer guilt relief for some of the 67 million married U.S. working women and reflect a growing equity among couples when it comes to income, decision-making, parenting and housekeeping. And if working wives promote stability at home, the trend is likely to buttress arguments for more paid paternal leave and more help with child care.
That the centuries-old view of a woman's place is being liberalized seems overdue to some. "It's good in so many ways, but let's move on," said Penn State sociologist Stacy Rogers, co-author of the book "Alone Together: How Marriage in America Is Changing."
Sociologists from 1980 onward struggled for clarity in a fast-changing domestic world of rising marriage ages, more cohabitation and rising incomes for women. Also confounding them was the endless range of domestic effects based on whether a wife wanted to work or had to.
In the end, time simplified the picture. More wives worked and made more money. More husbands appreciated it. More families adapted. That's the gist of Rogers' new book comparing the attitudes of married couples in 1980 with those in 2000.
The main shift was away from traditional breadwinner-homemaker marriages to what the authors call "egalitarian marriages." In them, husbands and wives share decision-making power more equally and housekeeping and child-care duties more equitably. Such alliances increased from 1980 to 2000, based on the book's nationally representative sample of 1,000 couples. They also were happier than traditional marriages.
Wives' contribution to family income rose sharply during the 20-year span, too, from 21 percent to 32 percent. They also generally did less housework, while husbands did more. Grumbling about unfairness shifted accordingly, the study found. The shift to more equitable housework may have helped marital stability, however, because wives initiate about two-thirds of U.S. divorces.