Unmarried couples who live together hold very conventional views of household gender roles, new research has found. In particular, researchers found that the men in unwed couples are still seen as the primary breadwinners even when they are not, while the women are seen as being responsible for domestic work.
"Many people have thought of these cohabiters as very egalitarian. In fact, in many ways these working-class cohabiters are playing house, " said researcher Amanda Miller, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Indianapolis. "They're acting out the roles traditionally played by married people."
Holding onto outdated views can have serious consequences on the long-term health of the relationship, Miller said. Many women among those couples are reluctant to proceed with marriage.
"They’re afraid that they're going to be doing even more than they do now, which may help explain the retreat from marriage among those with less than a college education," said Miller, who conducted the research with Sharon Sassler of Cornell University.
Their research was based on interviews with 30 unmarried working-class couples.
"A number of these working-class men wanted the respect of being the breadwinner but were not necessarily taking on that role," Miller said. "While they were content to let their girlfriends pay at least half of the rent, they admitted that they had no plans to take on half of the housework, even if their partners were very unhappy about doing more than their fair share."
Men have a very specific reason for holding onto those viewpoints, Miller and Sassler said. In particular, men are holding onto the privileges of being the breadwinner in a household because they have lost other privileges in the workplace recently.
The research was published in the December issue of Qualitative Sociology.