Karen J. Prager, Ph.D., A.B.P.P.

Professor of Psychology and  Program Head for Gender Studies

Diplomate in Family Psychology

The University of Texas at Dallas

More Information About Dr. Prager's work


Research on Intimacy

Processes in Couple Relationships 

Teaching and Professional Practice

Selected Papers and Publications


For Students:



Back to Psychology of Gender syllabus


Gender, Power, & Equality in Marriage

What is power?

*Ability to influence others' behavior

           *Being able to carry out one's own agenda despite resistance

           *Ability to affect others' outcomes


3 sources of power

*Maleness as a resource ("Legitimate power")


Normative power source varies among cultures

Patriarchy: Males SPECIFICALLY have power.

Modified patriarchy: Patriarchy only in lower SES groups.

Transitional egalitarianism: No clear message. More resources = more power (U.S.).

Egalitarianism: Power is SPECIFICALLY shared.


*Reward & expert power: Power through access to resources: Power through access to resources

**Social exchange theory: If A has what B wants, A has power over B. Extent of A's power depends on A's access to alternative resources.

*Resources are universalistic or particularistic

*Husbands may have more universalistic resources

*Process power: Power emerges through communication styles

*Controlling the discussion

*Who gets ignored

*Power through influence strategies


Types of influence strategies

**Indirect vs. direct: Hinting, being nice, pouting, etc. vs. asking, telling, talking.

**Bilateral vs. unilateral: strategies involving both partners (e.g. persuasion, bargaining) vs. those requiring only one (withdrawing, each doing what he/she wants)

**Indirect, unilateral

*Disengagement sulking

trying to make one's partner feel guilty

leaving the scene

Indirect, bilateral


dropping hints


behaving seductively

reminding of past favors

Direct, unilateral




acting ill

acting helpless


making threats


becoming violent




claiming greater knowledge

asserting authority

Direct, bilateral



offering to compromise

offering a trade-off

Historical Perspective: The Division of Labor

**Increased separateness of home & workplace increases problems with gender-based division of labor

Comparisons across centuries in America

17th-18th centuries

Agrarian economy

No home--workplace separation

Everyone worked, children included

Household is unit of society, not individual

Ideology of marriage-based-on-love not as prevalent as today

Early 19th century

Industrialization and economic change began

Families members sent out from home to work for cash

Late 19th- early 20th century

The factories separated home-work from workplace-work.

Thus – "dichotomization gave birth to ideology

Fewer women, more men working in factories

Home ideologically identified with women and "women’s work"

Introduction of new family ideologies

1. "Affectionate Family"

*Based on love

*Haven from work

*Differentiated gender roles

*the workplace is harsh & the family is a haven from it

2. "Cult of True Womanhood"

*Women are "natural" guardians of the home

*Women & children need protection from "harshness"

Children need full-time mothering & protection: child labor laws (children were an economic liability)

Women’s work includes protecting children

3. The privatized family

*Public sphere vs. private sphere

*Families outside of public domain

*Women were responsible for maintaining the "haven"

*Men needed the haven & should be at home when not at work


Ideology/expectations about family changed

Problem: Ideology denied economic nature of family.

1. Father’s income maintained social class (education, training, wife’s work-at-home)

2. Mother’s work supported father’s income-earning activity

3. Did not apply to working & lower classes

Consequence of denial: Separate spheres intimacy

Is the ideology wrong? Or must it expand?

20th Century: change

Increase in women’s labor force participation (among the middle classes)

Women disproportionately work in service jobs and make little money

Men do more domestic work though not as much as women do

Children still protected

New ideologies/ideals of marriage? Love & money?

What predicted shared power (shared decision-making and division of labor) at the end of the 20th century?

Best predictor: perceived importance of wife’s career

Decision-making -- What predicts relationship satisfaction?

Syncratic decision-making

Use of reasoning, compromise, good listening skills


Direct & positive correlation, in most studies, between husbands’ participation in household work (sometimes, housework, sometimes child-care) and wives’ well-being and freedom from stress/depressive symptoms.

Steil’s & Turetsky’s 1984 study:

Compared 4 groups of couples

1. Employed husbands without children

2. Employed wives without children

3. Employed mothers

4. Employed fathers

Husbands without children: little relationship between marital influence & well-being. The more husbands shared housework in these couples, the less dysphoria they reported.

Stats: the division of labor in marriage

I. Wives do more work . . . even though husbands do more than in the past.

2. Decision-making is shared in about 60% of married couples.

3. Wives and husbands define equality in marriage the same way and idealize the equal marriage.

Marital equality, satisfaction and well-being

1. More equality = more satisfaction in both partners.

2. More equality = better health, well-being for wives.

Explanations: Why does inequality persist?

1. Wives have more time than husbands?

2. Wives have less influence because they earn less?

3. Attitudes and social constructions support inequality?

Wives' incomes are secondary?

Husbands will suffer if wives earn more?

Husbands are defined as "providers" with associated privileges?

Women lack feelings of entitlement?

Women and men perceive equality to benefit women more than men?  Yet women often do not push for equality.