Sex Roles

, Volume 76, Issue 3–4, pp 125–137 | Cite as

Emerging Adults’ Expectations and Preferences for Gender Role Arrangements in Long-Term Heterosexual Relationships

Original Article


Using vignettes as a data collection tool, the main purpose of this randomized, mixed-method study was to examine U.S. emerging adults’ (N = 451) expectations and preferences for five different gender role relationship (GRR) types: (a) male-head/female-complement, (b) male-senior/female-junior partner, (c) partner-equal, (d) female-senior/male-junior partner, and (e) female-head/male-complement. Respondents’ perceptions about their personal satisfaction if they were in such GRRs in the future also were examined, as were their perceptions of the effects of marital status and parental status of couples in the various GRR vignettes. Married couples were projected to have greater satisfaction than cohabiting couples, but couples with and without children were viewed similarly. Quantitative results suggest that emerging adults project egalitarian GRRs to be the most satisfying relationship type. Projected couple satisfaction and anticipated personal satisfaction were not dependent on couples’ marital or parental status. Qualitative results generally supported the quantitative findings, in that dual-career couple relationships were projected to be the most satisfying. Educators as well as premarital and marriage counselors may be able to use this information to help emerging adults consider and prepare for future relationships. Work/family policymakers also could use this information to tailor workplace and social policies to better reflect emerging adults’ views about GRRs in their future relationships.


Gender roles Relationship satisfaction Romantic relationships Work & family Emerging adults Mixed research methods 

Supplementary material

11199_2016_658_MOESM1_ESM.doc (70 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 69 kb)


  1. Arnett, J. J. (2004). Emerging adulthood. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Blakemore, J. E. O., Lawton, C. A., & Vartanian, L. R. (2005). I can’t wait to get married: Gender differences in drive to marry. Sex Roles, 53, 327–335. doi: 10.1007/s11199-005-6756-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bolzendahl, C. I., & Myers, D. J. (2004). Feminist attitudes and support for gender equality: Opinion change in women and men, 1974–1998. Social Forces, 83, 759–790. doi: 10.1353/sof.2005.0005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Botkin, D. R., Weeks, M. O., & Morris, J. E. (2000). Changing marriage role expectations: 1961–1996. Sex Roles, 42, 933–942. doi: 10.1023/A:1007006702410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brooks, C., & Bolzendahl, C. (2004). The transformation of US gender role attitudes: Cohort replacement, social-structural change, and ideological learning. Social Science Research, 33, 106–133. doi: 10.1016/S0049-089X(03)00041-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brown, S. L. (2003). Relationship quality dynamics of cohabiting unions. Journal of Family Issues, 24, 583–601. doi: 10.1177/0192513X03024005001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown, S. L., & Kawamura, S. (2010). Relationship quality among cohabitors and married in older adulthood. Social Science Research, 39, 777–786. doi: 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2010.04.010.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  8. Budd, R. (1967). Content analysis of communications. New York: Macmillan Company.Google Scholar
  9. Cha, Y., & Thébaud, S. (2009). Labor markets, breadwinning, and beliefs: How economic context shapes men’s gender ideology. Gender and Society, 23, 215–243. doi: 10.1177/0891243208330448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cherlin, A. J. (2004). The deinstitutionalization of American marriage. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 848–861. doi: 10.1111/j.0022-2445.2004.00058.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cichy, K. E., Lefkowitz, E. S., & Fingerman, K. L. (2007). Generational differences in gender attitudes between parents and grown offspring. Sex Roles, 57, 825–836. doi: 10.1007/s11199-007-9314-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cobb, L. A., Seery, B. L., & McKinney, K. (2003). College students’ perceptions of employment-based marital dyad types. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 24, 203–224. doi: 10.1023/A:1023666908795.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cotter, D., Hermsen, J. M., & Vanneman, R. (2011). The end of the gender revolution? Gender role attitudes from 1977 to 2008. American Journal of Sociology, 117, 259–289. doi: 10.1086/658853.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dillaway, H., & Broman, C. (2001). Race, class, and gender differences in marital satisfaction and divisions of household labor among dual-earner couples: A case for intersectional analysis. Journal of Family Issues, 22, 309–327. doi: 10.1177/019251301022003003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dunn, K. M., Jordan, K., Lacey, R. J., Shapley, M., & Jinks, C. (2004). Patterns of consent in epidemiologic research: Evidence from over 25,000 responders. American Journal of Epidemiology, 159, 1087–1094. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwh141.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Eagan, T. M., Eide, G. E., Gulsvik, A., & Bakke, P. S. (2002). Nonresponse in a community cohort study: Predictors and consequences for exposure-disease associations. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 55, 775–781. doi: 10.1016/S0895-4356(02)00431-6.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Finch, J. (1987). Research note: The vignette technique in survey research. Sociology, 21, 105–114. doi: 10.1177/0038038587021001008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Forste, R., & Fox, K. (2012). Household labor, gender roles, and family satisfaction: A cross-national comparison. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 43(5), 613–631. Retrieved from
  19. Friedman, S. R., & Weissbrod, C. S. (2005). Work and family commitment and decision making status among emerging adults. Sex Roles, 53, 317–324. doi: 10.1007/s11199-005-6755-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ganong, L. H., & Coleman, M. (2006). Multiple segment factorial vignette designs. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68, 455–468. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2006.00264.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gerson, K. (2010). The unfinished revolution: Coming of age in a new era of gender, work, and family. New York: Oxford.Google Scholar
  22. Goodwin, P. Y., Mosher, W. D., & Chandra, A. (2010). Marriage and cohabitation in the United States: A statistical portrait based on Cycle 6 (2002) of the National Survey of Family Growth. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Statistics, 23(28), 1–45. Retrieved from
  23. Helms, H. M., Walls, J. K., Crouter, A. C., & McHale, S. M. (2010). Provider role attitudes, marital satisfaction, role overload, and housework: A dyadic approach. Journal of Family Psychology, 24, 568–577. doi: 10.1037/a0020637. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  24. Heuveline, P., & Timberlake, J. M. (2004). The role of cohabitation in family formation: The United States in comparative perspective. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 66, 1214–1230. doi: 10.1111/j.0022-2445.2004.00088.x.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  25. Hoffnung, M. (2004). Wanting it all: Career, marriage, and motherhood during college-educated women’s 20s. Sex Roles, 50, 711–723. doi: 10.1023/B:SERS.0000027572.57049.ff.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hoffnung, M., & Williams, M. A. (2013). Balancing act: Career and family during college-educated women’s 30s. Sex Roles, 68, 321–334. doi: 10.1007/s11199-012-0248-x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Huston, T. L., McHale, S. M., & Crouter, A. C. (1986). When the honeymoon’s over: Changes in the marriage relationship over the first year. In R. Gilmore & S. Duck (Eds.), The emerging field of personal relationships (pp. 109–132). Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  28. Lawrence, E., Nylen, K., & Cobb, R. J. (2007). Prenatal expectations and marital satisfaction over the transition to parenthood. Journal of Family Psychology, 21, 155–164. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.21.2.155.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Miles, M. B., Huberman, A. M., & Saldana, J. (2013). Qualitative data analysis: A methods sourcebook (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  30. Nock, S. L. (1995). A comparison of marriage and cohabiting relationships. Journal of Family Issues, 16, 53–76. doi: 10.1177/019251395016001004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Nock, S. L. (2000). The divorce of marriage and parenthood. Journal of Family Therapy, 22, 245–263. doi: 10.1111/1467-6427.00150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pampel, F. (2011). Cohort changes in the socio-demographic determinants of gender egalitarianism. Social Forces, 89, 961–982. doi: 10.1353/sof.2011.0011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Partin, M. R., Malone, M., Winnett, M., Slater, J., Bar-Cohen, A., & Caplan, L. (2003). The impact of survey nonresponse bias on conclusions drawn from a mammography intervention trial. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 56, 867–873. doi: 10.1016/S0895-4356(03)00061-1.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Scanzoni, J. (1995). Contemporary families and relationships: Reinventing responsibility. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  35. Scanzoni, L. D., & Scanzoni, J. (1988). Men, women, and change: A sociology of marriage and family (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  36. Scanzoni, J., Polonko, K., Teachman, J., & Thompson, L. (1989). The sexual bond: Rethinking families and close relationships. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  37. Schwartz, P. (1994). Peer marriage: How love between equals really works. New York: The Free press.Google Scholar
  38. Thornton, A., & Young-DeMarco, L. (2001). Four decades of trends in attitudes toward family issues in the United States: The 1960s through the 1990s. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63, 1009–1037. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2001.01009.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. U.S. Census Bureau. (2008). Current Population Survey, 2008 Annual Social and Economic Supplement. Table FG8. Married couple family groups with children under 15 by stay-at-home status of both spouses: 2008. Retrieved from
  40. U.S. Census Bureau. (2014). Current Population Survey, 2014 Annual Social and Economic Supplement. Table FG8. Married couple family groups with children under 15 by stay-at-home status of both spouses: 2014. Retrieved from
  41. Umberson, D., Williams, K., Powers, D. A., Chen, M. D., & Campbell, A. M. (2005). As good as it gets? A life course perspective on marital quality. Social Forces, 84, 493–511. doi: 10.1353/sof.2005.0131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wallen, J. (2002). Work and family programs and economic equality. In J. Wallen (Ed.), Balancing work and family: The role of the workplace (pp. 119–129). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  43. Weer, C. H., Greenhaus, J. H., Colakoglu, S. N., & Foley, S. (2006). The role of maternal employment, role-altering strategies, and gender in college students’ expectations of work-family conflict. Sex Roles, 55, 535–544. doi: 10.1007/s11199-006-9107-y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Willetts, M. C. (2006). Union quality comparisons between long-term heterosexual cohabitation and legal marriage. Journal of Family Issues, 27, 110–127. doi: 10.1177/0192513X05279986.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.MACC-Columbia Higher Education CenterMoberly Area Community CollegeColumbiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Human Development and Family ScienceUniversity of Missouri-ColumbiaColumbiaUSA

Personalised recommendations