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Unlike Some Of Their Fathers, Today's Married Men Seek A 'Full Partner'


From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish. It's time now to talk about men.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: In today's society, to be a man you have to get up every morning, go to the same job, provide for your family.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: The biggest thing of being a man is to have her say you're the best daddy. I mean, I can't respect a man that don't take care of his kids.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I'm married. I've got two daughters and four grandkids. And that's what it means to be a man. Uphold your vows, stay around, raise your kids, do the best you can.

CORNISH: We've exploring notions of masculinity and what it means to be a man in America these days. Our series now moves fully into adulthood. Monday, we'll hear about men's place in the workforce. But today, we'll talk about men's roles and expectations at home.

STEPHANIE COONTZ: If you are a man in America, there's a very good chance you will be married at some time in your life. But there's a much smaller chance than in the past that you will spend most of your adult life in marriage, make all of your decisions there and make all of your life-course transitions there. That's the big difference.

CORNISH: That's Stephanie Coontz, professor of family studies at Evergreen State College and author of a number of books, including "Marriage, a History." Stephanie, thanks for joining us.

COONTZ: My pleasure.

CORNISH: So first, what is the chance that the average man will be married at some point in his life?

COONTZ: Well, most demographers think that about 85 percent of men will marry at some point. That would be lower than the high point in all of American history in the 1950s, when 95 percent married.

CORNISH: And I understand there have been some shifts when it comes to class - right - and socio-economic status in terms of what men are getting married or not.

COONTZ: Well, that's a very interesting change. Back in the 1950s and '60s, there was very little difference between the marriage rates of college-educated men, high-income men and lower-income men. And then in the 1970s, there were rises in divorce for both. But since then, we've seen a huge divergence. In general, all men are marrying at an older age than before. Today, college-educated men are much more likely to get married and much less likely to divorce than their less educated counterparts.

CORNISH: Stephanie Coontz, once men get married, what are their expectations in terms of their own role and the role they believe a wife should play and compare that to say 50 years ago?

COONTZ: Well, 50 years ago, guys expected to support this woman. She kept the house, provided services around the house - including sex, which is why marital rape was not illegal. Men took it for granted that their role was to be the breadwinner and the right and privilege that accompanied that was to be paid more than women in the workplace, to be deferred to at home. Today, men are much more likely to want a full partner. Good housekeeping skills have fallen way down in their desirable list of qualities - friendship's gone way up. Many also want a woman who can share breadwinning. And men understand that women want more from them - more intimacy, more equality, more sharing of housework and childcare. The one thing that is still a little bit of a barrier is there's still a pressure on men, that's not yet put on women, to be the fallback provider. That, I think, is part of the reason that we're having this divergence in marriage rates between lower-income, less-educated men and higher-income, high-educated men.

CORNISH: Stephanie, briefly you mentioned sexual violence in marriages. But I understand there's been definitely some shifts in the numbers there.

COONTZ: Oh my gosh, the improvements in domestic violence have really been quite impressive. Of course, there's more than there should be but domestic violence in the '50s and '60s was often not even reported. When police did come, many police departments had a stitch rule, refusing to arrest unless a certain number of stitches were required by the wife. An astonishing number of women took it for granted. They'd get slapped by their husbands. Domestic violence has been declining since the 1970s. And according to the Bureau of Justice, it fell by 72 percent just between 1993 and 2011. And that's on top of earlier drops that researchers have found.

CORNISH: Let's talk more about future trends in terms of what we're expecting to see for men when it comes to marriage and fatherhood.

COONTZ: Well, we're having more men who have children out of wedlock and who may not see those children. But for men who are with their children, we're seeing much more involvement. Both college-educated and less-educated husbands have doubled their housework and tripled the amount of time with children that they do since the 1970s.

CORNISH: So with men doing more housework, spending more time with their kids - what's the cultural support for that? I mean, how does that play out for them today?

COONTZ: Well, there are still some real cultural pressures against it. In some ways, men are still being tyrannized by the masculine mystique - the flipside of the feminine mystique that women rebelled against in the '60s and '70s, which says if you don't act manly enough, we're going to bully you. We're going to discriminate against you. There's been a total reversal in who reports the most work-family conflict. Back in the '70s, women reported much higher levels of work-family conflict than men did. Today, men report higher levels of work-family conflict than women do. Employers are not willing to accommodate men very much. They get teased. They get harassed. They get denied promotions. But the good news is that men really want to spend more time with their families. They're asking for family-friendly work policies, for leaves, for flexibility. And so this is no longer a woman's issue. This is a men's and women's issue.

CORNISH: Stephanie, I want to mention one more thing. Recently, there was some controversy about a study that had come up about egalitarian marriages - that they also meant less sex.

COONTZ: Yes, there was a study based on data gathered in 1991 to 1992. And remember, those marriages would include marriages formed in the '50s and '60s, when gender roles were much straighter. And they found that couples that - where men did a share of what was a traditionally female housework, had less sex and reported less sexual satisfaction than couples who clung to a more traditional division of labor. But of course, that was older data. And so recently, Sharon Sassler and Dan Carlson and some other researchers went back and just looked at marriages formed in the early 1990s. And they found that that's not true- that in fact, the couples with the most egalitarian sharing of housework have the most sex and report the most sexual satisfaction. The only exception is the less than 5 percent of couples where the man does most of the housework. And frankly, as a woman, I can understand that. Women don't much like it when they have to do most of the housework, even though we've had a hundred years of telling us that that's going to be a source of fulfillment, whereas men haven't.

CORNISH: Stephanie Coontz - she's professor of family studies at Evergreen State College and author of a number of books including "Marriage, a History." Stephanie, thanks so much for speaking with us.

COONTZ: Oh, you're welcome. It was my pleasure.

CORNISH: And we'll hear more about some of the issues Stephanie talked about - work and family balance, paternity leave and parenting - as our series on men continues. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.