Tuesday, February 28, 2006

What Does John Tierney Want?

A valid question about a guy who starts a column rehashing poor Freud's inability to answer the question what women want. I even have an answer to this much easier question, the one about Tierney's wants: He wants to spread a certain way of thinking about women and feminism, one which makes us all throw up our hands in despair and to acknowledge that there is no understanding those poor little ladies. On the one hand they say that they want fairness and equality, on the other hand what they really want is a man to take care of them and to boss them around.

Tierney is glib in his misogyny, glib indeed. See how he introduces the lates piece of sociological research he then mines:

Freud confessed that his "thirty years of research into the feminine soul" left him unable to answer one great question: "What does a woman want?" Modern feminists have been arguing for decades over a variation of it: What should a woman want?

This week two sociologists from the University of Virginia are publishing the answer to a more manageable variation. Drawing on one of the most thorough surveys ever done of married couples, they've crunched the numbers and asked: What makes a woman happy with her marriage?

Their answer doesn't quite jibe with current conventional wisdom. Three decades ago, two-thirds of Americans surveyed said it was better for wives to focus on homemaking and husbands to focus on breadwinning, but by the 1990's, only a third embraced the traditional division of labor. The new ideal — in theory, not in practice — became a partnership of equals who split duties inside and outside the home.

This new egalitarian marriage was hailed by academics and relationship gurus as a recipe for a happier union. As wives went off to work and husbands took on new jobs at home, couples would supposedly have more in common and more to talk about. Husbands would do more "emotion work," as sociologists call it, and wives would be more fulfilled.

That was the theory tested by the Virginia sociologists, Bradford Wilcox and Steven Nock, who analyzed a survey of more than 5,000 couples. Sure enough, they found that husbands' "emotion work" was crucial to wives' happiness. Having an affectionate and understanding husband was by far the most important predictor of a woman's satisfaction with her marriage.

But it turns out that an equal division of labor didn't make husbands more affectionate or wives more fulfilled. The wives working outside the home reported less satisfaction with their husbands and their marriages than did the stay-at-home wives. And among those with outside jobs, the happiest wives, regardless of the family's overall income, were the ones whose husbands brought in at least two-thirds of the money.

Ho, ho! Take that, you nasty feminists! You will never get equality because women (that amorphous mass which thinks with one mind and one set of emotions) don't really want it! And yes, we can measure happiness across individuals. It's easy! And no, nobody's happiness is based on how far away they are from the prevailing social norms, nope. And none of us boys are at all biased in talking about this research.

Well, I beg to disagree. Let's have a look at the two researchers of the study. First W. Bradford Wilcox:

Mr. Wilcox's research focuses on the influence of religious belief and practice on marriage, cohabitation, parenting, and fatherhood. He has published articles on religion, parenting, and fatherhood in The American Sociological Review, Social Forces, The Journal of Marriage and Family and The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. His first book, Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands, (Chicago, 2004) examines the ways in which the religious beliefs and practices of American Protestant men influence their approach to parenting, household labor, and marriage. Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, Mr. Wilcox is now researching the effect that religion has on relationships among low-income parents in urban America.

The bolding is mine so that you can see what the prior position of professor Wilcox might be.

Then Steven Nock:

Mr. Nock is the author of books and articles about the causes and consequences of change in the American family. He has investigated issues of privacy, unmarried fatherhood, cohabitation, commitment, divorce, and marriage. His most recent book, Marriage in Men's Lives won the William J. Good Book Award from the American Sociological Association for the most outstanding contribution to family scholarship in 1999.

He focuses on the intersection of social science and public policy concerning households and families in America.

Mr. Nock teaches courses on the family at the introductory and advanced undergraduate, and advanced graduate levels. He has team-taught graduate courses on the family in the Department of Psychology. He also offers courses on quantitative methods, statistics, and demographic techniques. He won the 1991-1992 All-University Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award.

His current research is the Marriage Matters project. This ongoing effort examines the legal innovation known as Covenant Marriage in Louisiana, Arizona and Arkansas. In these states, couples wishing to marry must choose betweent the: standard regime of a marriage governed by no-fault divorce laws, and a Covenant Marriage regime, which is governed by fault-based divorce laws. The latter is more difficult to enter and more difficult to dissolve. This ongoing project, funded by the National Science Foundation and other sources, seeks to determine the role of law in marriage by following a large sample of newly married individuals in each type of marriage for five years.

Bolds are mine, again. These guys are into studying traditional marriage, and I'd be very surprised if their findings didn't accord with their premises. So.