Sociology of Heterosexual Marriage

In his classic sociological study of marriage, Ken Dempsey shows the level of work required to negotiate power and inequality within heterosexual relationships. While both men and women noted that marriage has some specific advantages for men and women, overall, the participants noted that men’s power was more overt when it came to doing unpaid work, personal autonomy, and how they managed their leisure time outside the home.  

Though men and women said they supported equality, when it came to doing housework and bargaining day-to-day work in the family, men were less willing to compromise. Women were at least twice as likely as men to say their spouse offered inadequate emotional support, including less communication, not spending enough time together, being preoccupied with work and outside interests, and lacking initiative in organising joint activities.

Dempsey argued that while much of feminist efforts focused on changing women’s consciousness, the modern challenge was not convincing men and women about equality. Generally, in Western contexts, men and women will support this ideal in principle. The challenge for men was to develop a “moral commitment” to putting equality into action, especially in emotional and domestic labour.


[Photo: close up of bride and groom holding hands with quote:  "Even if a wife can get a husband to the negotiating table, achieving change in key facets of marital relationships will often prove very difficult. Both partners have important resources that can deliver power but, up to this point in time, males are far more advantaged than females structurally and ideologically.“ – Ken Dempsey.]

Photo: John Morton via Flickr adapted by The Other Sociologist. 

Source: Other Sociologist.

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