Using material from item b and elsewhere, assess the view that roles and relationships
among couples are becoming more equal
Who does more in the home, the man?The woman? Or is the relationship equal??
The view that roles and relationships are becoming more equal is strongly supported by sociologists such
as Jonathon gershuny (1994), I will be assessing different patterns, views and perspectives of relationships
and equality within them. Different family forms such as gay marriage, cohabitation, and extended family
represent the increasing diversity of today’s society.
As shown in item b, marriage and the roles and relationships within it continue to be an unequal
‘partnership’, symmetrical families reflect the opposite of this and are families with joint conjugal roles, in
which husbands participate in domestic labour, as well as being breadwinners, and wives go out to work as
well as being only homemakers. The couple spend their leisure time together and are more home centred.
This is much different to time before where segregated conjugal roles were the most popular form of role
within a marriage, this is where the couple have separate roles, a male breadwinner and a female
homemaker and carer as supported by parsons, women are naturally the more expressive members, and
their leisure activities are usually kept separate.
The ‘march of progress’ view is supported by young and willmott (1973), they consider life to be gradually
improving for all members within it, families are becoming more equal and democratic, they argue that
there has been a long term trend from segregated conjugal roles to joint conjugal roles and the
‘symmetrical family’. A symmetrical family is one in which roles of husbands and wives are much more
similar but not exactly the same. Changes that indicate a symmetrical family include women going out to
work more, more men helping with housework and childcare, and couples now spend more leisure time
together, rather than with friends or colleagues.
Young and willmottfound that the symmetrical was more common among younger couples and people
who are better off, young and willmott see the rise of the symmetrical nuclear family is a result of major
social changes that have taken place during the past century, including changes in the position of women,
geographical mobility, new technology, and higher standards of living. Some of these factors are interlinked, for example married women bringing a second wage into the home raises the family’s standard of
living, this may encourage men to stay at home rather than go out with friends. This brings more equality
into the home as both the men and woman share the same level of power.
Functionalists such as parsons (1955) argues that a clear division of labour is based on biological
differences with women naturally being suited the nurturing role and men to be the provider, other
sociologists criticise his view, young and willmott (1962) argue that men are now taking a greater share of
domestic tasks and more wives are becoming wage earners, however feminists believe that it only benefits
men. Feminists reject the ‘March of progress’ view, they think little has changed and men and women
remain unequal. Oakley believes the housewife role has become the dominant role for unmarried women,
and women still remain unequal in the household. In her own research on housewives, Ann Oakley found
some evidence of men helping in the house, but no evidence of a trend towards symmetry. She found that
husbands were more likely to share the childcare responsibilities rather than the housework, however only
helped with the more pleasurable childcare tasks, for example, taking the children to the park, or
swimming lessons etc. Mary boultons latest research in 1983 supports oakleys findings, she found that 20%
of husbands had a major role in childcare, she argues that young and willmott exaggerate mens
contributions by looking at the tasks in childcare, rather than the overall responsibilities, according to the
office for national statistics, on average women spend over two and a half hours per day on household
tasks including washing, ironing, cleaning, cooking, and washing up, compared with mens one hour. In
general, diy, car and garden maintenance are the only chores that men spend more time on.
Feminists continue to believe that we live in a patriarchal society, therefore believe that familys live in a
male dominated environment where women are forced into the housewife role and are trapped as
domestic servants and sexual slaves.
Some sociologists argue that women working full time are leading to a more equal division of labour in the
home. Jonathon gershuny (1994) found that wives who worked full time did less domestic work, and the
longer the wife had been in paid work, the more housework her husband was likely to do, gershuny
explains this trend towards greater equality in terms of gradual change in values and parental role models.
He argues that social values are gradually adapting to the fact that women are now working full fime, his
research is very similar to orielsullivans (2000), he found a trend towards greater equality as men did more
domestic labour, in particular, there was an increase in the numbers of couples with an equal division of
labour and men were participating more in traditional tasks usually performed by women.
Rosemary Crompton (1997) accepts gershunys evidence. However she explains it very differently, in terms
of economic factors rather than changing values or role models. As womens earning powers increases,
similar to mens earnings, men do more in the home. Hilary silver (1987) stresses the importance of two
economic developments in reducing the burden of housework on women, goods and services that
housewives previously had to produce themselves are now mass-produced and supplied by supermarkets.
Ready meals, microwaves, washing machines etc all reduce the amount of domestic labour required by
women. As a result, silver argues that the burden on housewives have gradually decreased, however these
developments are usually benefited most by middle-class women as they are more likely to be able to
afford it. As mentioned in item b, despite an advance in the position of women and there being more
opportunity for them to work, there is a high likelihood that they may be undertaking a duel burden, or
triple shift, a duel burden is a combination of paid work and unpaid housework undertaken by women, and
a triple shift is the combination of paid work, unpaid housework and childcare, if this is the case, it is clear
that relationships that withhold these types of roles are unequal.
In lesbian/same-sex relationships, gender scripts operate very differently to heterosexual relationships,
Gillian dunne (1999) argues that a division of labour and gender scripts continues only because it has been
the norm for such a long time and has never been any different, gender scripts are expectations or ‘norms’
that set out the different gender roles men and women in heterosexual couples are expected to play,
feminist, especially radical feminists favour lesbian relationships simply because they have no specified
roles within them. Dunne found evidence of symmetry within them. Compared with heterosexual women,
lesbians are more likely to describe their relationship as equal and share housework and childcare equally,
give equal importance to both partners careers, and view childcare positively. Dunne argues that this is
because same sex couples interact in different ways, heterosexuals are under pressure to conform to
masculine or feminine gender scripts by performing different types of domestic tasks that confirm their
gender identities, however in lesbian relationships, household tasks are not linked to particular gender
scripts, and allows lesbian couples to create a more equal relationship, this supports the radical feminist
view that relationships between men and women are patriarchal and that women can only achieve
equality in a same-sex relationship, however Shelton and john (1993) found that women that cohabit
rather than marry do less housework.
Men often take a greater share of the families resources usually because they contribute more money, due
to their higher earnings and full time work, feminist sociologists janpahl and Carolyn vogler (1993) focus on
how each partners contribution to the family income affects decision-making within the family. They
identify two main types of control over family income, they are pooling and the allowance system, pooling
is where both partners have access to income and have shared responsibility over what is spent, e.g a joint
bank account, an allowance system is where men gives their wives an allowance, the money the wife
receives has to be budgeted to meet the family’s needs, with the main retaining extra income for himself.
Stephen edgells (1980) study of professional couples found that very important decisions such as those
involving finance, a change of job or moving house were made by the husband, or jointly made with the
husbands having the final decision. Less important decisions such as home décor or food shopping were
usually made by the wife. However other feminists argue that inequalities in decision making are not
simply the result of unequal earnings, they argue that in patriarchal society, the cultural definition of men
as decision makers is deeply ingrained in men and women and is instilled through gender socialisation.
One woman out of 4, and one man out of 6 are victims of domestic violence during their lifetime and 2
women each week are killed due to domestic violence. Domestic violence is any incident of threatening
behaviour, violence or abuse between adults who are or have been in a relationship together, or between
family members, it can happen to men and women; however women are more likely to be victims. It can
be physical, psychological, sexual, and financial.Dobash and dobash (1979) found that violent incidents
could be set off by what a husband would consider to be a challenge of his authority, e,g his wife
questioning where he had been or why he was late. Millett and firestone (1970) argue that all societies
have been founded on patriarchy. They see the key division in society as that between men and women.
Men are the enemy, and are oppressors and exploiters of women. For radical feminists, widespread
domestic violence is an inevitable feature of patriarchal society and serves to preserve the power that all
men have over all women, firestone and millets views illustrate great inequality within relationships.
Richard Wilkinson (1996) sees domestic violence as a result of stress on family members caused by social
inequality, this inequality means that some families have fewer resources than others, such as income and
housing, people living in crowded accommodation or who have lower standards of living may be more
stressed than others who don’t, increasing the risk of conflict and violence. Wilkinson’s findings show that
not all people are equally in danger of suffering domestic violence; women with less power, status, wealth
or income are often at greater risk.
Using material from item B, it is clear that marriage and relationships in general are becoming gradually
fairer and more equal; this is evident in the roles men and women play in their relationships, when
considering their paid work and the domestic division of labour within the household. More and more
couples are pooling rather than having an allowance system, indicating a change in the power of women,
more domestic violence is being reported and acted upon by legal professionals, giving women more
strength in society. Couples who both work and share the domestic labourhave ultimately the most equal