What married women want

Leading sociologist says church-going men are more likely to ‘have what it takes’ to keep their wives happy

Staff Report
November 16, 2006 at 4:07 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Sociologists Steven Nock and W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia have presented a new study on what makes women happy based on the findings of the National Survey of Families and Households.

Their new book, What's Love Got to Do with It? Equality, Equity, Commitment, and Women's Marital Quality, is available in bookstores.

Nock says the study suggests that men who were churchgoers with a strong, commitment to marriage were better husbands and were more likely, to make their wives happy.

They were more likely to spend quality time with their wives and to express affection to their wives.

Nock says that he chose to look at what made wives happy because about two-thirds of all divorces in the United States are, at least officially, initiated by women.

One of the key factors women cite, says Nock, is the emotional quality of their relationships. In other words, if they feel that their marriages are high-quality relationships, they're not likely to seek divorce.

If they feel otherwise, however, women are much more likely to head for divorce.

Based on Nock’s earlier research, evangelical women tend to be happier in their marriages than other women, particularly when both the wife and the husband attend church on a regular basis.

This idea that Christians are just as likely to divorce as secular folks is not correct if we factor church attendance into our thinking.

Church-going evangelical Protestants, churchgoing Catholics, and churchgoing mainline Protestants are all significantly less likely to divorce.

Nock estimates between 35 and 50 percent less likely than Americans who attend church just nominally, just once or twice a year, or who don't attend church at all.

It is true that people who say they've had a born-again experience are about as likely to divorce as people who are completely secular. But if you look at this through the lens of church attendance, you see a very different story.

The biggest predictor of women's happiness is their husband's emotional engagement.

The extent to which he is affectionate, to which he is empathetic, to which he is basically tuned into his wife, this is the most important factor in predicting the wife's happiness.

This drowns out every other factor in models, says Nock.

Is that a surprise? “I don't think it is,” say Nock. “But from an academic perspective, a lot of work has focused on, for instance, who does the housework and how that's related to people's perceptions of happiness in their marriages or fairness or whatnot.

“We have to recognize that for the average American marriage, it matters a lot more whether the husband is emotionally in tune with his wife than whether he's doing, say, half the dishes or half the laundry.

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