Rosenfeld notes that marriage law was originally based on the common law assumption that the wife was the husband’s property. The last vestiges of this common law tradition legally subordinating wives to their husbands, such as allowing spousal rape, were eliminated in the United States only in the late 1970s. Most women in the U.S. still take the surnames of their husbands when they marry, a practice required by law in many states until the 1970s.
Just as we cannot maintain grand ancient structures without contending with the limitations of ancient building materials, so it is difficult to sustain old traditions without keeping the old worldviews and habits from which they had emerged. The ghosts of female subjugation haunt the halls of contemporary marriage, to the detriment of married women.
This is an intriguing idea, but doubts remain.
First, causality is difficult to establish in the absence of true controlled experimentation. In other words, since we cannot assign people randomly to married and unmarried groups at the outset, any difference between the groups in outcome may be the result of selection, rather than treatment, effects. For example: If married women are more likely to be dissatisfied, it may be because the marriage made them so (treatment effect) or because dissatisfaction-prone women are more likely to choose marriage (selection effect).
People’s expectations—a variable not measured in Rosenfeld’s data—may also play a role in relationship satisfaction. If the culture sets women’s expectations for marriage high and men’s low, then the reality of marriage, in which men benefit more, may elicit increased satisfaction in men—“This is much better than I expected”—and decreased satisfaction in women.
“WE MUST REDISCOVER THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN HOPE AND EXPECTATION.” – IVAN ILLICH
Moreover, while Rosenfeld’s work may shed light on the “push” side of the decision to leave, the equation he outlines is probably incomplete as it neglects the “pull” side.
In general, life decisions are multiplied determined. Internal states such as marital satisfaction are likely to be weighed in the decision-making process against external variables such as societal attitudes about divorce, or the ability to maintain contact with children and financial security after divorce. Indeed, existing data attests to the importance of such external pull factors in shaping the decisions of both men and women.
For example, the AARP survey pointed to the fact that men more often decided to stay in a bad marriage out of fear of losing touch with their children. These are not unjustified fears, as fathers often experience decreased levels of contact with their children post-divorce.
Conversely, an unsatisfied woman’s decision to leave may depend in part on her employment status. For example, Ohio State University’s Liana C. Sayer and her colleagues have provided evidence to suggest that unsatisfied women are much more likely to leave if they are employed.
At the end of the day, the accumulating data paint a picture of marriage as complex commerce in which women may often play a paradoxical role: They work harder for a smaller share of the benefits—which may explain why, while they may often be more eager to get into a marriage, they are often also more eager to get
Just because it’s women, that does not always mean marriage is the be-all and end-all for them. The perception that marriage means the end of the “good life” for men is utter nonsense, as they are likely to gain more from marriage than women.
Check out this video below which talks about how men gain more from marriage than women: