Experiences of gender role assignment by women in transitional marriages
BACKGROUND: Global female workforce participation has increased rapidly over the past few decades, and the majority of marriages are now dual-earning. Marriages were therefore expected to shift from traditional to egalitarian, where household tasks are shared equally between spouses. However, decades later, the majority of marriages are still found to be in a transitional phase, where women are employed outside of the home, but maintain responsibility for the majority of domestic tasks and childcare. The transitional marriage holds a number of complications for spouses, as gender roles are no longer clearly defined and more difficult to negotiate. Married women are under particular strain as they now have to balance both the work and family roles. OBJECT: The aim of the present study is to gain a better understanding of how women in transitional marriages experience and make meaning of the roles that they fulfil. Minimal research has been devoted to this issue, and the literature largely focuses on marriages at the traditional or egalitarian ends of the gender role spectrum. METHOD: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight women in transitional marriages, with children living at home. The data were examined using thematic analysis. RESULTS: The results indicated that the majority of participants worked out of economic necessity as opposed to choice, and that half of the participants earned more than their spouses. Most participants still harboured traditional gender beliefs even though their external circumstances had changed. This discrepancy seemed to cause significant internal and marital conflict, yet the attainment of more egalitarian beliefs seemed difficult to attain owing to feelings of guilt and a perceived threat of identity loss. Consequently, the majority of participants had difficulty relinquishing control over several household tasks. Furthermore, demanding work hours, the lack of family-friendly policies at work, and cultural factors also played a role in the maintenance of traditional beliefs by participants CONCLUSIONS: Much research still needs to be conducted to gain a more thorough understanding of changing gender roles in society, as well as to inform new workforce legislation that could enhance the lives of families. Lastly, as most studies focus on the experiences of women regarding the division of labour (probably because of the significant adaptations that have occurred in women’s roles), it becomes necessary to gain an understanding of the experiences of men as well, particularly if research is going to be utilised for the benefit of the whole family. As became evident, unequal division of tasks is often maintained by women for several reasons, and is no longer necessarily the result of oppression by men, as much of the literature suggests.