Seniors Favor Women's Equality, But Want Traditional Marriages
Although a majority of American high-school seniors say that women should have the right to adopt non-traditional family or occupational roles, few agree that they or their spouse would take on such roles when they marry.
That is one of the key findings of a five-year survey of approximately 15,000 students conducted by A. Regula Herzog and Jerald G. Bachman of the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research and released early this month.
Their report, titled Sex Role Attitudes Among High School Seniors: Views About Work and Family Roles, indicates that graduates from the classes of 1976 through 1980 generally accept the principles of equal employment and educational opportunities for women but not those of identical family or sex roles for husbands and wives, according to the researchers.
"When it comes to their own future marriages, the overwhelming majority prefer to maintain some traditional role distinctions," Ms. Herzog and Mr. Bachman said.
"They want an arrangement in which the husband consistently works full time outside the home; any other alternative is ruled out. When small children are part of the family, they want a wife who is not spending large portions of her time working in outside employment."
The report also reveals that the high-school seniors' plans and expectations about marriage and family "could fairly be categorized as squarely in the mainstream of conventional values."
"In overwhelming proportions, they expected to be married, to stay married to the same person, and to have children," the researchers said.
Ms. Herzog and Mr. Bachman said that they found a "fairly consistent" tendency for higher proportions of females than males to give non-traditional responses to questions regarding occupational or parenting roles. Those differences, however, were not nearly as great as they had expected them to be.
"Since we fully expected to see substantial differences, our own reaction has been to be a bit more impressed by the similarities," they said. "Especially when it comes to preferences for sharing of family responsibilities, we find a sufficient range of overlap, and a sufficient degree of tolerance for a range of alternative patterns, that we are fairly sanguine about the prospects for harmony as these seniors marry and actually set about the business of sharing the burdens of marriage and parenthood."
The report also includes these findings:
Although there seems to be a tendency toward sharing of duties be-tween marital partners, the final responsibility still seems to rest with the one partner who traditionally held that particular duty. "Thus, a husband's help in child care is very welcome, even to a point of equal involvement with the wife; but the final responsibility still appears to rest with the wife," the researchers said. "By the same token, the involvement of the wife in paid work is widely accepted, but it is still the husband who is expected to maintain full-time employment irrespective of his family situation."
Respondents whose mothers spent significant time working outside the home are much more likely than other seniors to consider it desirable or acceptable for a wife with pre-school children to be employed.
Male and female seniors' views on couples living together before getting married varied greatly. Males were split about evenly on the question, whereas only one-third of the females approved of unmarried couples living together.
While female views have shown little change, male seniors have shown a modest increase in support of conventional marriage. As a result, the gap between males and females is only about as half as large for the class of 1980 as it was for the class of 1976.
Copies of the report can be obtained by contacting the publishing division of the Institute for Social Research, Box 1248, Ann Arbor, Mich. 48106.