What do you bring to the table?
April 16, 2016 6:56 PM   Subscribe

What are men bringing to a modern marriage? I read lots of poorly referenced stories about how they increase a women's workload, don't perform emotional labor, and do much less of the child rearing. So what are men bringing to the table?

I am considering this from the perspective of women who make enough to comfortably support a family (herself plus children) alone. As women chip away at the wage gap, have more education by comparison, maintain the home, and care for children, what's in it from their perspective?

I am interested in writings that say either marriage is or is not still worth it to women. Femenist writings are welcome. Please leave out arguments based entirely on coparenting when separated.
posted by Kalmya to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

This is a serious question/answer... I'm not sure what kind of answers you're looking for. Love is important, as is modeling love (and manhood) for children.

Also, more attention and time _for_ any children.
posted by amtho at 7:22 PM on April 16, 2016 [12 favorites]

Hm. One thing that I've discussed with my husband fairly recently is the two-income thing. Basically, with two wage earners, you have more buying power. And with that buying power you have inflation. The biggest costs which affect our double-income family right now are childcare and our mortgage. Oh, and saving for retirement since, you know, there will be no safety net and we're supposed to like it.

Anyway, it's a kind of trap. Elizabeth Warren wrote a book about it! I should revisit that and see if it's holding up now a decade on.

What's good about two incomes is that you can steer the boat if someone is out of a job for a period of time due to a layoff, going to school, health issues, etc.. Although, if you are just barely covering your cost of living with your incomes, this isn't much of a help. I'm told in ye olden days that having a stay-at-home partner was beneficial both to keep the home fires burning but also so that that person could go out and suddenly become the wage earner if it was necessary. So many women would start taking in laundry, nanny other people's children, sell vegetables from the garden, sew clothing for other people, in order to make the family ends meet. If the partner was suddenly out of work or taken ill, she had a means to ramp that up until he could get back to work.

So, there's utility for survival in having a variety of earners and workers and unpaid labor getting done. It doesn't have to be a marriage, though. Of course, having one of your earners be a man has been a good way to get better benefits and better pay from the get-go.

Also, sex? Love? Companionship?
posted by amanda at 7:24 PM on April 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

[The OP says: "I am interested in writings that say either marriage is or is not still worth it to women." I know it's a topic people are likely to have a lot of feelings about, but try to answer the core question.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 7:26 PM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

A woman doesn't marry "men." She marries a particular man. Just because there are stereotypes of men as not contributing to housework, performing emotional labor, or caring for children, that doesn't mean that this is true of all men or all marriages. An individual man can bring a lot to the table, including all of the above plus love and support. People in good marriages find that marriage contributes to their happiness. I question the validity of any argument about marriage based on gender stereotypes.
posted by FencingGal at 8:02 PM on April 16, 2016 [33 favorites]

This meta-analysis found that the gender disparity in marital satisfaction seen in many studies was only significant when studies used participants in active couples counselling. (See studies citing it, too.)

I assume you've seen Wikipedia's roundup, and maybe this study? The picture from these is that high-quality, high-satisfaction (according to women), low-conflict, egalitarian pairings are good for women's health.

I don't have a cite for this, but I recall that the overall conclusion of one of my psych casses, after looking at a number of studies, was that [non-toxic, not necessarily lifelong] pair bonding is adaptive (ie linked to overall well-being and happiness) for most people.

I guess you'd have to be looking for a securely attached (definitely not avoidant), feminist mate, though.

posted by cotton dress sock at 8:04 PM on April 16, 2016 [16 favorites]

This book might be interesting to you.
posted by aaanastasia at 2:53 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am really looking for quantifiable benefits to women. Health benefits, happiness increases, workload decreases. Yes, I am also assuming love/relationships are not directly tied to this. This is really in response to reading that from a functional standpoint marriage is a burden to women but a boon to men. So the how and why we got to a marriage being a benefit to only one gender (from a purely functional standpoint) is also of interest. Also research that shows this often reported status of marriage is a misrepresentation is good (or only true in certain circumstances). OMG love is a huge factor marriage, but I am not questioning if love exists (it does and invididuals can happily care for each other in all kinds of ways).
posted by Kalmya at 6:55 AM on April 17, 2016

The National Marriage Project might be of interest.

According to their page, their goals are:
The National Marriage Project (NMP) is a nonpartisan, nonsectarian, and interdisciplinary initiative located at the University of Virginia. The Project’s mission is to provide research and analysis on the health of marriage in America, to analyze the social and cultural forces shaping contemporary marriage, and to identify strategies to increase marital quality and stability.
posted by theorique at 7:36 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I stopped by to cite Elizabeth Gilbert's "Committed," which I see aaanastasia has already linked to. It goes into quite a lot of detail and has a bibliography of sources you might find useful.
posted by rpfields at 10:23 AM on April 17, 2016

I think you might like All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister.

It delves into American women and singleness, and it's overall just a great, engaging read.
posted by topoisomerase at 11:00 AM on April 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

The usual anthropological answer is that men bring resources necessary for raising the children.

This was certainly true pre-1900 when keeping a household to what we consider middle class standard required not just the full time labor of the wife, but also servants.

Since statistics show that single mothers have lower incomes than traditional families, I think its probably still true, if not so obvious.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:18 AM on April 17, 2016

Yes to Rebecca Traiser! Additionally, here are some older books by feminist authors that you might find useful. Sorry I can't link (on my phone).

The Second Shift by Arlie Hoschild is a classic study of how housework and childcare is split among married heterosexual partners.

Stephanie Coontz is author of Married: A History, and other books about the history and sociology of American families.

Beth Bailey is author of From Front Porch to Back Seat: A History of Courtship in the 20th Century. IIRC her book focused mostly on the 1920s to the 60s.

Barbara Ehrenreich is author of The Hearts of Men, which sort of picks up where Bailey left off, documenting how economic and social changes affected the institution of marriage in the last half of the 20th century.

Marilyn Yalom is author of A History of the Wife.

Laura Kipnis is author of Against Love: A Polemic.

They're all well-researched, thoughtful and accessible. They each tell (a piece of) the story of how marriage shifted from being mainly about money, property and inheritance, to being mainly about romantic love. Which might bring you to Esther Perel's Mating in Captivity, a very clear-eyed and compassionate look at the limitations of the romantic love model.

You might also be interested in the publications of the Work Life Law Center at Hastings Law College. It's run by Joan C. Williams, a terrific lawyer/researcher/advocate who writes mainly about women's experiences at work (What Works for Women at Work is the best practical guide I know for women who want to advance at the office) but also quite a bit about the things that hold them back which, yes, includes family obligations.
posted by Susan PG at 11:36 AM on April 17, 2016 [5 favorites]

do much less of the child rearing

Less is still some, so that's something. Husbands provide emotional support, someone to talk to about life's challenges, someone to rub your shoulders when you've had a long day, split the driving on a road trip. Sometimes it's nice just having someone to hand the reins to every now and again, or someone to hold the dustpan when you sweep (metaphorically). Even if they don't do 50% of the housework or childcare, 30% is significant, or even 15% is something.
posted by serenity_now at 1:03 PM on April 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

"In Defense of Single of Single Parent Families" by Nancy Dowd (a past coursebook of mine from family law) takes a legalistic/economic view at the situation, but references some great studies (though dated; it was published in 1998) and presents a coherent breakdown of 'myth' vs 'reality'. Her thoroughly researched conclusion is the deciding factor in successful life outcomes for both parent and child(ren) is the same as with pretty much everything else: MONEY.

The economic study she leans on was done in 1990, and the the conclusion was a single parent household with 2 children in preschool required a full-time $8.70 job with full health benefits in order to provide baseline outcomes - in today's money, $15.85. Citing tax records, ~20% of all single parent households reported an income in excess of $30,000 ($54,000 today which is, incidentally, the median income) and ~5% in excess of $45,000 - ($82,000 today, just under the median married household income). The latter households had outcomes equal to that of married households - they're simply not the focus of most studies regarding single parent households because they're the minority.

TLDR: on paper, if you have the necessary income a spouse doesn't improve life outcomes for you or your children.
posted by givennamesurname at 2:25 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've been a single parent, and although that was better than being married, having sole responsibility for young children is very hard. Think of it this way - if there's no one else, until the children are old enough to stay by themselves, you cannot leave the house without taking child care into account. There is no dashing to the store to buy a quart of milk, no quick trip to the library to return books, no taking a walk around the block. If you have two children and there's an emergency and you have to take one child to the ER in the middle of the night, you have to bring both with you. You are responsible for having someone watch your children every second of the day, and that is draining as hell. If you were living in an extended family with grandparents and aunts and older cousins, it would not be that big a deal. So I would argue that the rise of the nuclear family as virtually the only way for people to live has made having a spouse much more essential, even if that person is only providing 10% of child care. So for me "the necessary income" for life without a spouse would have to be enough to pay for live-in child care.

In addition to that, there is the emotional stress of being the person responsible for everything. If you don't know how you're going to pay for groceries before your next paycheck, there's no one to share that worry with. If the furnace dies and you can't afford to fix it, you have to figure it out by yourself. Those are problems money can fix, but there are other things to deal with. If your second grader is being bullied in school, coming up with a way to handle it is completely on you. And when my daughter had a dispute with a neighbor child, that girl's father stormed right into my house and screamed at me. I don't think he would have done that if I'd been living with a man. In fact, I can think of more than one occasion when male parents of other children tried to bully me over children's fights that could have been resolved in a much more reasonable way (and if you are picturing some stereotype of poverty among the uneducated, I was living in university housing - these parents were graduate students).

Now I know lots of people survive for years as single parents - I did, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't be a lot easier with a spouse in the picture. I don't think studies are going to give you the kind of information you can get by talking to people who know what it's like to live it.
posted by FencingGal at 8:15 PM on April 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Sociologist Eva Illouz writes about the history/economics of dating and marriage in recent history. I particularly recommend Why Love Hurts: A Sociological Explanation.
posted by attentionplease at 8:24 PM on April 18, 2016

Women get healthier after their husbands die, new study shows
Marriage has long been thought to be beneficial - both in sickness and in health.

But a study suggests that widows actually suffer less stress and frailty than wives whose husbands are still alive. The findings are in contrast to previous research which showed marriage has a protective effect on health, lowering the risk of heart attack and depression, and increasing the chance of surviving from cancer.
posted by moody cow at 3:34 AM on April 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

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