Someone once constructed a hierarchy of happiness. In diminishing order, the happiest people are married men, followed by unmarried women, followed by married women, followed by unmarried men.
This is no news to two sociologists, Karyn Loscocco and Susan Walzer in Gender and the Culture of Heterosexual Marriage in the United States. Ms. Loscocco of the University of Albany and Ms. Walzer of Skidmore College believe that marriage, particularly marriage among “white, educated and well-off couples,” is what they term “a gendered social reality and a gendered institution.”
They amplify on work pioneered by Jesse Bernard, who 50 years ago concluded that the experience of marriage depends a lot on whether someone is the husband or the wife. “Forget about ‘two becoming one’ when a man and woman marry; in fact, what we really experience is a ‘his’ and a ‘hers’ marriage — a husband’s and a wife’s.” In general, Bernard says, marriage generally benefits the hubby more than the wife.
Even in the age of “stay-at-home dads and breadwinning moms, the age of equal partnerships,” both spouses live with “an incredible awareness of gender and how a wife and a husband “should” act. And that continues to drive “contemporary heterosexual marriage and its discontents.”
Ms. Loscocco and Ms. Walzer cite studies showing that women are less happy in their marriages than men; that women are more likely than men to see problems in their marriages; that women are more likely to initiate divorce, and they are more than three times as likely as their former husbands to have strongly desired the divorce; and that once-married men are more likely to say that they want to marry again than are once-married women.
Married woman are “miserable in their marriages” because they are
“still in charge of the emotional caretaking: Typical studies of the household division of labor do not begin to capture all the unpaid caring work — for friends, extended family, schools, and religious and other community organizations — that women disproportionately do. Nor do they capture wives’ planning, organizing, and structuring of family life.”