Why should this be the case? One suggestion made by the researchers is that liberal women see marriage as an open-ended arrangement, in which the marriage partners attempt, individualistically, to negotiate terms in which they can maximise their personal fulfilment. This, however, leads to a strong focus on "account keeping", and a more critical attitude by women as to whether the marriage arrangement is serving their own interests. This critical attitude then alienates their husbands, whose level of "emotion work" declines, and the quality of the marriage suffers.
In comparison, traditional women are more likely to view marriage as an institution, important in its own right, and worthy of personal sacrifice. The work done by husbands and wives, in this more traditional view, is seen as a "gift exchange" in which the gifts take on a larger value within the setting of marriage and don't need to be immediately reciprocated. This fosters a less critical attitude by wives and therefore a higher level of emotional involvement by husbands in the marriage.
The researchers put this argument as follows:
A second, related point is that a high level of normative and social support for the institution of marriage may also promote women’s marital happiness by fostering an altruistic mindset that makes wives less likely to continuously monitor the relationship to see if it is serving their individual interests.
Although a growing number of Americans, influenced by the cultural logic of “expressive individualism” (Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler and Tipton 1985), act as self-interested agents who bargain over their marital roles and interests in an effort to maximize their personal fulfillment (Bumpass 1990; Cherlin 2000), other Americans conceptualize their marriages along more institutional lines (Wilcox 2004).
These Americans see marriage as a sacred institution in the Durkheimian sense that the relationship is accorded extraordinary value. Hence, the marital relationship is supposed to trump the individual interests of partners, calling forth virtues such as fidelity, sacrifice and mutual support (Bahr and Bahr 2001).
In this setting, exchanges between marital partners are often conducted according to an “enchanted” cultural logic of gift exchange where spouses give one another gifts that vary in value, may or may not be reciprocated, and often have some kind of symbolic value above and beyond their immediate instrumental value (Bourdieu 1990: 126; Bahr and Bahr 2001; Wilcox 2004).
Women who are deeply committed to the institution of marriage, and who identify with this enchanted view of marriage, are probably less likely than more individualistic women to keep an ongoing account of how the relationship is or is not serving their own interests. This willingness to avoid looking at the marriage in a self-interested fashion is probably associated with fewer critical evaluations of the marital relationship. This should lead to higher levels of marital quality for women (Brines and Joyner 1999; Wilcox 2004). (p.1324)
If true, this suggests one important reason for treating marriage as something more than "a bit of paper". When marriage is treated as significant, as an institution, then there is a stronger purpose for the work we do within our marriage, so that we don't have to justify our own input with some immediate reciprocation from our spouse. There is less critical account keeping and a greater sense of husbands and wives imparting gifts, of distinct value, to each other.
There's a second reason for highlighting this particular argument within the research paper. It reminded me of a common feminist complaint, that their partners are at fault for expecting gratitude for the work they do within the family.
For instance, this is a tip from one radical woman to feminist men:
A radical will NEVER congratulate you for treating women as human. We're not going to go all cute and cuddly and say, "OH, you're such a good boy for actually helping her with the housework and changing the baby!" Why should we? Seriously, we ARE human, and we DESERVE to be treated as such.
When a man shows up expecting great big loads of praise for actually treating us as human beings what he's really saying is that he's done some great Herculean task by treating us as equals.
Here there is no enchanted logic of gift exchange. There is, instead, a view that women deserve what men give to them as a human right, an entitlement. The attempt to make male and female contributions strictly "equal" (the same) seems to breed the attitude that what we get is simply our "due" rather than a gift motivated by love and by commitment to the relationship.
For one more example of this attitude at work, consider the tone taken by an American woman, Mora, when responding to a female journalist's suggestion that men deserve some credit for the work they contribute to the family:
I gotta shake my head at this topic. Data shows that men no longer just go to work and then come home, plop down in the easy chair and holler for the “little woman” to bring him a beer. Hoooray for Men! Let’s give ‘em all medals for helping with the dishes, doing the vacuuming or even (gasp!) spending time with the kiddies! Let’s throw all these poor, self-sacrificing martyrs a ticker-tape parade…just to say “Thanks for helping maintain the family home” of course ...
Sorry, I’m waxing a bit sarcastic this morning ... I’m glad my sweetie isn’t one of those “Archie Bunker” types who thinks his wife should cater to his every need, but I don’t think he needs to be THANKED for not being an jackass.
Again, Mora considers the work her husband contributes as her "due" within a modern "egalitarian" marriage for which no gratitude is required.
Is this the attitude likely to inspire "emotion work" by men within their marriages? I expect the researchers are right to suggest that it isn't, and that the more traditional, institutional view of marriage is more likely to draw out such commitments from men.