What Men Want From Marriage
How Men Choose
Clearly, as women's roles have evolved, men have had to adjust as well. To be sure, some of the age-old impulses -- such as the attraction to beauty -- still influence their choices in a mate. But today, men such as Underwood are more at ease with the idea of a wife who has her own career and fully expects her husband to do his fair share of work around the house. And as the roles of husbands and wives have become more parallel, it seems that what men want from a spouse is getting a lot closer to what women want -- that is, a soul mate who will fulfill their emotional and intellectual needs.
Men still want to be married as much, if not more, than before. In fact, 94 percent of American teenage boys plan to marry someday and 92 percent plan to have children, according to a 2002 Gallup poll. Those numbers are up 10 percent from 1977, and slightly exceed the percentage of teenage girls who want the same. (In fact, 69 percent of all adult males in the U.S. are married and only 8 percent are divorced.) But men are also waiting longer to marry -- today, the typical groom is 27, compared with 23 in 1960. Why? One reason is that premarital sex and cohabitation are so widespread, says David Popenoe, PhD, sociologist and codirector of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, in Piscataway, New Jersey. But young men are also being more careful when it comes to selecting a mate. "So many of them have parents who've divorced or had friends growing up whose parents had split," explains Dr. Popenoe. "They don't want to repeat that experience."
Beyond that, men are looking for different sorts of women than the ones their fathers wed. Back then, marriage involved a strict division of labor in which husbands were breadwinners and wives were mothers and homemakers. When men were asked in a 1939 Gallup poll if they would want their wife to take a job at a $50-a-week salary -- a substantial sum in those days -- 63 percent of them said no.
Even as recently as 1977, nearly 70 percent of men still felt it was better for their wives to stay at home, according to a General Social Survey at the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center. A Gallup poll commissioned by the National Marriage Project in 2001 showed a significant change of heart: Forty-two percent of 20- to 24-year-old single men said it was actually more important to them to have a wife who makes a good living than one who excelled as a homemaker. And by 2002, 55 percent of men thought it was okay for married women to work outside the home even if they had children.
Not only are men more interested in marrying women who can bring home the bacon, they're apparently more willing to be with someone who earns as much as or more than they do. A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study found that the number of dual-income couples in which the wife was the bigger earner increased from 16 percent in 1981 to 23 percent in 1996. "Today, if women make as much money as we do, it's not a threat to our sense of machismo," Underwood says. (The money issue doesn't seem to bother women, either. According to a 2001 study by the National Marriage Project, nearly 80 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 29 feel it's more important to choose a husband who can communicate his feelings than one who has a fat paycheck.)
At the same time, men have grown more disenchanted with working and are looking to family life for fulfillment. Seventy percent of married men are conflicted about the amount of time they spend on the job versus with their family, according to a 1997 survey conducted by the Families and Work Institute in New York City. Fatherhood has taken on a new meaning; 93 percent of men with school-age children hug them at least once a week -- a 90 percent increase over the past decade -- according to a 2002 study at the University of California at Riverside. And though married men do only half as much housework as their wives, it's a big improvement since 1965, when they did just one-sixth as much. "Since both partners have careers these days, men can't use the I'm-the-breadwinner excuse anymore," explains Underwood. "In our marriage, we try to make it 50-50 as much as possible. She cooks, I do the dishes. She keeps the checkbook, I clean the bathroom."