Sex Role Attitudes of Spouses and Task Sharing Behavior

ABSTRACT - This study investigated the congruence between each spouse's sex-role attitude and role behaviors in the areas of family financial management and in division of labor for domestic chores performance. Findings from the structural equation analysis showed that only the wife's sex-role attitude was significantly related to the couple's task sharing behavior. Regardless of the type of sex-role attitude held by their husbands, wives with more modern sex-role attitudes tended to share more equally with their husbands the influence over deciding/handling expenses and savings decisions as well as perform domestic chores more jointly.


Chankon Kim and Hanjoon Lee (1989) ,"Sex Role Attitudes of Spouses and Task Sharing Behavior", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 16, eds. Thomas K. Srull, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 671-679.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 16, 1989      Pages 671-679


Chankon Kim, Concordia University

Hanjoon Lee, Western Michigan University


This study investigated the congruence between each spouse's sex-role attitude and role behaviors in the areas of family financial management and in division of labor for domestic chores performance. Findings from the structural equation analysis showed that only the wife's sex-role attitude was significantly related to the couple's task sharing behavior. Regardless of the type of sex-role attitude held by their husbands, wives with more modern sex-role attitudes tended to share more equally with their husbands the influence over deciding/handling expenses and savings decisions as well as perform domestic chores more jointly.


The traditional demarcation between the culturally prescribed roles of men and women is becoming increasingly obscure both at the societal and domestic levels. A common observation is that there is considerable movement in the perceptions of men and women toward more egalitarian views in determining their roles. The evolving status of women fueled by their increasing education and occupational attainment coupled with the feminist movement has been regarded as the major force underlying this change in sex-role attitudes (Ericksen, Yancy, and Ericksen 1979; Roper and Labeff 1977).

While the changes in sex-role attitudes of men and women are taking place pervasively, they do not occur simultaneously across the whole population. The varying degrees of sex-role attitudes (on the modem-traditional continuum) held by people have been hypothesized as a causal factor underlying different patterns of family role behaviors. According to Qualls (1987), sex-role attitudes reflect the societal norms and expectations by which family members determine the rewards and costs associated with their actions. Blood and Wolfe (1960) proposed long ago that the cultural norms and expectations have a direct impact on the family decision influence structure and the division of labor. Most family researchers give credence to the relationship between sex-role attitude and role behavior. A general belief is that egalitarian sex-role attitudes foster a commitment to more equal sharing of household decision influences and family responsibilities (Scanzoni 1977, 1979; Mortimer, Hall, and Hill 1978; Bird, Bird, and Scrugas 1984).


Financial Management

In one of the earlier studies investigating the congruence between sex-role attitude and behavior in family financial management, Green and Cunningham (1975) found that women who possessed liberal views of women's roles did not differ from those with moderate or conservative views in the reported amount of influence they had vis-a-vis their husbands over family savings decisions. With regard to keeping track of money and bills, however, liberal women reported the lowest incidence of joint task-sharing. This is contrary to the common expectation that modern sex-role attitudes are associated with a greater degree of household task-sharing between the spouses. A major drawback of this study was that it analyzed women's responses only.

The findings reported by Schaninger, Buss, and Grover (1982) are, on the other hand, consistent with the hypothesized relationship. Using the responses obtained form both spouses, they found that for the financial tasks traditionally handled by wife (e.g., handling expenses for food and beverages and clothing), sex-role modern families showed less wife but more joint and husband influence. For those traditionally husband dominated tasks (e.g., handling expenses for transportation, recreation, and savings plans), less husband, but more joint and wife influence was observed among the sex-role modern families. Similarly, Qualls (1982) found that sex-role modern husbands perceived to a lesser extent than sex-role traditional husbands that savings decisions should be husband dominant. However, both traditional as well as modern sex-role wives felt that the decision pattern should be of joint influence.

The study by Rosen and Granbois (1983) investigated the relationship between sex-role attitudes and role structure for three groups of financial management activities. Sex-role attitudes of both spouses were significant determinants of role structure only regarding implementation tasks (e.g., balancing and reconciling checkbooks and paying bills). The pattern of role structure in actual financial decision making activities (e.g., deciding the method and amount of savings and the method of financing purchases) was not reflective of either spouse's sex-role attitude.

Household Chores

While only a small number of sociological studies have focused on the relationship between sex-role attitude and domestic task-sharing, the existing findings are generally supportive of this relationship. Stafford, Backman, and Dibona (1977), in their study of the determinants of household task structuring and performance found that each spouse's sex-role ideology was significantly related to how couples divided their responsibilities for various household tasks as well as time spent on household labor. The authors observed that the traditional division of labor (i.e., women taking most of the responsibilities for and performing most of the household tasks) which was prevalent among the couples investigated was largely due to the unconscious ideology developed from parental modeling that preserves traditional sex-roles. Perrucci, Potter, and Rhoads (1978) examined the determinants of the husband's participation in 12 selected household/child-care activities, and also found that traditional sex-role perception was significantly associated with the husband's participation in fewer of these tasks.

Two recent studies by Bird, Bird, and Scruggs (1984) and by Ross (1987) provide evidence for the attitude-behavior congruence only among husbands. The former found that husbands who had an egalitarian sex-role orientation accepted more responsibility for tasks associated with child care, meal preparation, and cleaning. However, sex-role orientation of wives had little effect on their reports of household task-sharing. The latter study, using a mean response to five questions on household chores (averaged over both spouses) as the dependent variable, also found that only husband's sex-role orientation was a significant predictor of the household division of labor.

Product Purchase Decisions

Studies relating sex-role attitudes of husband and wife to the influence pattern in durable purchase decisions are scanty and their findings are somewhat mixed. The study by Green and Cunningham (1975) which examined the number of subdecisions made by each spouse in five product/service purchase situations, reported that husbands of liberal wives tended to make fewer decisions than husbands of conservative and moderate sex-role wives regarding the purchase of major appliances, automobile, and vacation. However, the three sex-role groups of wives did not show a significant difference in the number of subdecisions they had influence over except for the automobile purchase. Liberal wives reported to make significantly more subdecisions relating to the automobile purchase than moderates or traditionals.

According to Qualls (1982), sex-role traditional husbands, much more so than their sex-role modern counterparts, perceived as dominating purchase decisions regarding vacations, automobiles, housing, and insurance. In contrast, sex-role orientation of wives did not show any significant relationship to the perceived influence pattern. The evidence found by Schaninger, Buss, and Grover (1982) appears more unequivocal. In their findings, sex-role modern families showed less husband's and more joint and wife's influence over three of the five aspects of the last durable purchase (who decided initially to buy, when to buy, and where to buy). Further, it was observed that wives' sex-role attitudes were more strongly related to decision making influence than husbands'.

A recent study by Qualls (1987) investigated the effect of sex-role attitudes on four family decision making variables specified in a theoretical network, among which was household decision outcome measured as husband- or wife-dominant in a hypothetical household purchase situation. Sex-role attitudes of husbands and wives were not examined separately in this study. Rather each spouse's scores on five dimensions of Scanzoni's (1977) sex-role attitude measurement were used as indicators of household sex-role orientation. The study found that household sex-role orientation affected the couple's perceived influence structure and mode of conflict resolution, but did not have a direct effect on decision outcome.

In summary, the literature review suggests that the strength of the relationship between sex-role attitude and role behaviors in family tend to vary across different family tasks as well as between husbands and wives. Overall, there is sufficient empirical ground for further examinations of the effects of sex-role attitudes on a variety of family phenomena other than the ones reviewed above. A recent study by Spiro (1983) which found a relationship between the traditional family ideology and the type of influence strategy each spouse used in a joint decision making situation adds a new dimension to the study of sex-role attitudes.

One can also notice in the existing literature that the relationship between sex-role attitude and the household division of labor or decision influence pattern has been examined largely with bivariate analyses, or at best, in a context of regression analysis incorporating other hypothesized determinants of role structure. What is conspicuously missing is an attempt. to investigate simultaneously the interrelationship between sex-role attitudes of husband and wife as well as the effect of each spouse's sex-role attitude on role structuring behavior in several household tasks or decision areas.

Marriage is a comparatively stable relationship, and it involves a great deal of instrumental and emotional interdependence between the spouses. There is evidence that the spouses influence each other in shaping the preferences and beliefs of the other. For instance, Cronkite (1977) found in both crosssectional and over-time analysis that each partner's beliefs in innate sex-roles (i.e., men are born with more drive to be ambitions and successful than women, and women by nature are happiest when making a home and caring for children) directly influence the other's.

The congruence between sex-role attitude and role behaviors in family life is the topic of investigation in this study. More specifically, departing from the traditional approach, this study simultaneously examines the structural relationship between sex-role attitudes of husband and wife and the effect of each spouse's attitude on the extent of role sharing in family financial management and household task performance.


The data for this study came from part of a survey of home purchasers in the largely English speaking West Island region of the Greater Montreal area, conducted in 1987. From the list of home purchasers in the first 6 months of 1987 (supplied by a local real estate agency), 400 with English surnames were selected and mailed questionnaire packages. The package contained two identical questionnaires in English only with an attached cover letter instructing the recipients to have the man and woman of the household respond to the questions separately.

Of the 400 packages mailed out, 112 returned (28%). After excluding nonusable questionnaires (mostly those completed by the respondents who are single), there were 87 pairs of questionnaires completed by both spouses, 9 completed only by husbands, and 6 only by wives. Thus, in total, 96 husbands' and 93 wives' questionnaires returned were usable. There was no follow up effort because the survey promised unanimity of the respondents. The low response rate may have been due to the fairly lengthy questionnaire as well as the requirement of both spouses' responses.

Included in the questionnaire were 17 family financial management activities and household tasks for which each spouse was asked to assess his/her relative participation on five-point scales (1 = myself entirely, 2 = mostly myself, 3 = equally, 4 = mostly my spouse, 5 = my spouse entirely). Since the purpose of this research was to identify the degree of task sharing rather than to identify which spouse had the dominant role in performing each of these tasks, the responses were recoded to reflect the amount of task sharing by each spouse. The following recoding scheme was used: 1 = not shared at all (corresponding to 1 and 5 on the original scale); 2 = partly shared (2 and 4 on the original scale); and 3 = shared equally (3 on the original scale).

Measurement of each spouse's sex-role attitude used the Osmond and Martin's (1975) Sex-Role Attitude (SRA) Scale. Of the 32 items included in the original measure, three items which were deemed inappropriate in the Canadian context (e.g., The Equal Rights Amendment related to sex should be ratified as soon as possible) were deleted. The reported reliability levels for the measure in the past have been high, a = .88 in the original study and .76 in Qualls' (1987).


The study used the LISREL analysis incorporating sex-role attitudes of the spouses as independent latent variables and the extents of task sharing for several factor analyzed categories of household activities as dependent latent variables. An assessment of the independent and dependent variable measurements was conducted prior to the LISREL analysis.

Measurement of Sex-Role Attitude

While intended to tab a single theoretical dimension (traditional to modern sex-roles), the Osmond and Martin's SRA Scale was conceived on the basis of four a priori components: (1) familial roles of females and males; (2) extrafamilial roles of each sex; (3) stereotypes of male/female characteristics and behaviors; and (4) social changes as related to sex-roles. Factor analysis of the husbands' and wives' responses, however, revealed greater numbers of components (9 and 10 respectively) and quite dissimilar factor loadings patterns. In light of these results, ensuing analyses used the average of the total responses on the scale as the indicator of the spouse's sex-role attitude. Reliability analyses of the 29 items showed a Cronbach's a value of .87 for the husband's subsample and .73 for the wife's, and in both cases, no item showed too serious a negative contribution to the reliability of the overall measure to be eliminated. The average response on the 29 items for wives was 5.47 (1 = "traditional" end and 7 = "modem" end of the scale), and 5.16 for husbands. This observation that women in general held a significantly more modern sex-role attitude than men (t = 3.69, p<.05) is consistent with past results (Tomeh 1978; Brogan and Kutner 1976; Rao and Rao 1985; Scanzoni 1976).

Measurement Of Task-Sharing

For the 17 household activities, the study used the average of both spouses' responses on the extent of task-sharing. The correlations between husbands' and wives' reports of task-sharing were generally high. The average of the 17 correlation coefficients was .57, all but one higher than .5. Further, the reliability of each spouse's report was high and similar to the other's. The average Cronbach's a for the 17 sets of responses was .72. For these reasons, the average response did nol appear to be more heavily weighted to one or the other spouse.

These average responses of task-sharing for the 17 activities were factor analyzed to find underlying dimensions. the analysis produced S factors with the eigenvalue greater than 1.0, explaining 70 percent of the total variance. However, an examination of the varimax rotated factor loadings matrix showed three items with poor (lower than .35) or ambiguous loading values on more than one factor. The subsequent factor analysis excluding these three items produced four distinguishable factors (with eigenvalues greater than 1.0) accounting for 69 percent of the total variance. The four groups of activities were labeled as: (1) financial task implementation; (2) expenses decisions; (3) savings decision; and (4) domestic chore performance. A summary of the results from this factor solution along with the mean and standard deviation of each variable and the Cronbach's reliability coefficient computed for each group of items are presented in Table 1.

LISREL Analysis and Results

Contained in Figure 1 is the model specifying the relationships between the latent variables and measurement items as well as the structural links among the two spouses' sex-role attitudes and the extent of task-sharing in the four factor analyzed categories of household activities. The model depicts that each spouse's sex-role attitude measured by the average score on the 29 item Osmond and Martin's SRA Scale will be correlated to the other's due to the interpersonal influence on the belief systems of the spouses. Also depicted is that each spouse's sex-role attitude in turn will affect the degree of task-sharing in each of the four areas of household activities.

When estimated using LISREL VI (Joreskog and Sorbom 198) the goodness of fit of the model to the data was unsatisfactory (x299 = 148.03, P = .001). An examination of modification indices revealed strong correlations among the disturbance terms (z1, z2, z3) in the structural equations involving the three financial task-sharing dimensions (h1, h2, h3). A plausible explanation for this can be that some unmeasured causal variables were producing systematic variation in these three dependent dimensions. The subsequent testing of a revised model containing the specification of correlations among the three disturbance terms produced a substantially improved and acceptable fit (x296 = 108.62, P = .18). Figure 2 shows this revised model but displays only the structural parameters for ease of reading. Table 2 lists parameter estimates, standard errors, and t-values for both the measurement and structural portions of the model.



As shown in Figure 2, a significant relationship exists between the sex-role attitudes of the spouses (021 = .40, P < .001). This lends support for the contention that each partner's sex-role attitude to a large extent depends on the other's (Mirowsky and Ross 1987). The more sex-role modem (traditional) one partner is, the more the other also tends to be.

Structural relationships between the spouse's sex-role attitudes and task-sharing in the four household activity categories are, on the other hand, somewhat weak. Among the eight structural coefficients, two (g3 and g5) are significant at P = .05, and one (g7) at P = .10. However, it is interesting to note that all three significant coefficients pertain to the structural effects of the wife's sex-role attitude only. Substantively stating, couples with more sex-role modern wives are likely to take a more egalitarian approach in deciding/handling expenses, in making savings decisions, and in performing domestic chores. The husband's sex-role attitude shows no significant relationship with the extent of task-sharing in any of the activity categories. The coefficient of determination for the total structural model was .19. Thus, sex-role attitudes alone account for only a small portion of the variation in task-sharing behaviors of couples.








A look at the average values of the husbands' and wives' responses on the original five point scales (1 = wife entirely and 5 = husband entirely) [The husband's scales were reversed so that the scale descriptions could match the wife's.] for the three items in the category of expenses decision, three items in the category of savings decisions, and four items in the category of domestic chore performance shows a slightly more dominant husband influence over the decisions regarding expenses (mean values of 3.03, 3.06, and 3.01 respectively for the three activities in this category), a stronger husband dominance over savings decisions (mean values of 3.34, 3.46, and 3.05 respectively), but the four domestic chores were largely taken care of by wives (mean values of 1.63, 1.89, 2.19, and 2.00 respectively). These results coupled with the overriding finding of this study that the congruence between sex-role attitude and behavior is limited to the part of wives lead to the following suggestions: Irrespective of the type of sex-role attitude held by their husbands, women who possess more modern sex-role attitudes are transforming what appear to be more husband dominated financial decision making activities into a more egalitarian process. Further, more evident is that in the division of labor for performing domestic chores which traditionally fall under women's responsibility, wives with more modem sex-role attitudes obtain a greater extent of involvement from their husbands. One explanation for the lack of congruence between the husband's sex-role attitude and task-sharing behavior may be that men benefit more than women form the traditional system of sex-roles and inequalities, and that the motivational force to translate their attitudes into congruent behaviors may be weak.

Another result of this study showing that the average wife is significantly more sex-role modem than her husband is interesting because it implies a potential conflict of interest between them due to discrepant beliefs regarding their role prescriptions. On the other hand, it was also seen that one spouse's sex-role attitude tends to covary positively with the other's. Considering that marriage is a long term and comparatively stable relationship, it appears that the mutual influence on the belief systems of each other may act as an agent which reduces the levels of contrast in their positions. The emotional and instrumental dependence between the spouses are likely causes for their susceptibileness to each other's influence.

The primary reason for studying attitude is the expectation that an understanding of individuals' attitudes increases the understanding of individuals' behavior (Calder and Ross 1976). According to cognitive theorists (Festinger 1957; Abelson 1959; Rosenberg and Abelson 1960), individuals strive to make their attitudes and behaviors congruent because the imbalance is an unpleasant cognitive state. This study which investigated congruence between sex-role attitude and household task-sharing behavior provided partial evidence for the relationship. More research effort should be called for in understanding the link between sex-role attitudes of the spouses in many other aspects of joint decision making, particularly those of the decision making process.


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Chankon Kim, Concordia University
Hanjoon Lee, Western Michigan University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 16 | 1989

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