A new study offers some conclusions that might surprise a few people:
It turns out that feminism and faith both have high expectations of husbands and fathers, if for very different ideological reasons, and that both result in higher-quality marriages for women. This is a key conclusion of our new report, “The Ties That Bind: Is Faith a Global Force for Good or Ill in the Family?” from the Institute for Family Studies and the Wheatley Institution. The report looks at relationship quality for women in heterosexual relationships across 11 countries in the developed world, including the United States.
In studying women who report above-average satisfaction, commitment, closeness and stability in their relationships, we find that women at both ends of the ideological spectrum enjoy comparatively high-quality marriages, compared with women in the religious and ideological middle, as well as secular women who lean right culturally. Data from the Global Family and Gender Survey (which Mr. Wilcox helped conduct) indicate that 55 percent of secular progressive wives in the United States — who embrace egalitarian family values and do not attend religious services — report such high-quality marriages.
By contrast, fewer than 46 percent of wives in the religious middle — who attend only infrequently or don’t share regular religious attendance with their husbands — and only 33 percent of secular conservative wives — who think men should take the lead on bread-winning and women on child-rearing but don’t attend church — have such marriages.
And it turns out that the happiest of all wives in America are religious conservatives, followed by their religious progressive counterparts. Fully 73 percent of wives who hold conservative gender values and attend religious services regularly with their husbands have high-quality marriages. When it comes to relationship quality, there is a J-curve in women’s marital happiness, with women on the left and the right enjoying higher quality marriages than those in the middle — but especially wives on the right…
…What explains why wives in the religious and ideological middle, as well as secular conservative wives, are less likely to enjoy high-quality marriages? We suspect that part of their relative unhappiness, compared with religiously conservative women, is that they don’t enjoy the social, emotional and practical support for family life provided by a church, mosque or synagogue. We also suspect that these groups are less likely to have husbands who have made the transition to the “new father” ideal that’s gained currency in modern America — and they’re not happy with their partner’s disengagement.
In fact, in listening to the happiest secular progressive wives and their religiously conservative counterparts, we noticed something they share in common: devoted family men.