Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Saving Marriage with the Kiwi Husband? Equal Roles in the Household

Saving Marriage with the Kiwi Husband?
Equal Roles in the Household
            The institution of marriage is under attack with marriage rates decreasing. However, marriage is not dying because homosexuals seek equal rights to marriage but because our traditional marriage system which is killing the system from within. Although the traditional “nuclear family” emphasizes specific roles for men and women in the household, this idea is slowly breaking down in modern times as can be seem with the emergence of the kiwi husband. The term that is being used with increasing frequency on Japanese television, the kiwi husband breaks down our common conception of the husband being the breadwinner of the family and the wife being the caretaker of the household, showing that these roles are not mutually exclusive and that maybe Cosmo can be correct at times (as long as they do not attack their readers’ self-esteem).
            The Kiwi Husband is a term used to define a husband from New Zealand. The reason why they are talked about on television is because they these husbands share responsibility for household chores, the husband chipping in to help with maintaining the household in addition to working, thereby showing that the division of household labor is fairly shared between both men and women. Although not much information is given about the role of the kiwi wife in relation to her work, it is very likely that given her fewer responsibilities in the household, she is also able to get a job for additional income should she choose to.
            This led me to wonder both who are considered the most desirable husbands and why. According to a study by Dr. Almundena Sevilla-Sanz from Oxford University, New Zealand men came in eight out of twelve as the best husbands out of 12 developed countries, the top four being Norway, Sweden, Great Britain, and the U.S. This result came from the fact that these four countries were considered to be the most egalitarian countries among the 12 developed states. Although I believe there may be some flaws in this study not because it did not consider notable European countries such as Germany or France. I find these flaws to be critical given the fact that the study claims that “in egalitarian countries, there is less social stigma attached to men doing what was traditionally women’s work,”[1] thereby implying that greater political equality correlates with more equal roles for men and women in the family. I find it pretty hard to accept that the U.S. would be considered more egalitarian than New Zealand given the fact that in the 50s, the U.S. placed significant effort emphasizing the ideal life of the nuclear family as having a house in the suburbs with the husband going to work and coming back to a clean home with his wife having made dinner, idealizing the very traditional roles of men and women in the family. Although significant progress has been made in strengthening women’s rights for equality in modern times, the U.S. is quite conservative and still seems to emphasize conservative values, one of which being the perception of the ideal family
 The study also does not really emphasize the role of cultural values and cultural perceptions. I can understand that Japan may be ranked lower than the U.S. but the study does not explain why. In my layman opinion which is backed solely by life experience and thus should be taken with a grain of salt, Japan may be more traditionally conservative because Japan emphasizes filial roles in society, even today. Japan society is structured around the family and thus there may be expectations, especially among the more conservative families, that individuals follow traditional roles in society. I find this to be a common to Asian countries in general, given the fact that most Asian values seem to stem from Ancient China which followed Confucius’ values. Confucius was a strong proponent of filial ties, his concept of being an ideal human being known as ren requiring that the individual follow the five major relationships in society, one of them being between husband and wife. Although Confucianism has decreased in relevance in modern society, it still retains a strong influence in Asian ideals which need to be considered in promoting more equal roles in the household.
The important finding of the study is not that Norway provides the most ideal husbands. Assuming that divorce rates correlate with marriage (a fair but not comprehensive assumption given cultural values of divorce will also affect divorce rates) Norway’s divorce rate is 40.4% in 2002 which although better than the U.S. divorce rate of 35.8% and the U.K.’s rate of 42.6%, is still not great given that this means a little less than half of new marriages end in divorce.[2] The important finding is that great equality is necessarily in the household if the institution of marriage is to continue. According to the study, women from less egalitarian countries are 20 to 50% less likely to get married than women living in more egalitarian countries, most likely due to the fact that women living in less egalitarian countries realize that if they get married, they will lose any opportunities available to them by being restricted to performing household chores. Given the greater number of opportunities available to women in modern society both in terms of higher education and increased job opportunities, the cost of marriage from losing access to these opportunities bear higher costs than before. The increasing number of opportunities available to women makes the traditional role of women remaining in the household while the man remains the breadwinner unsustainable.
Marriage rates are decreasing worldwide and are becoming an increasingly relevant problem to many societies. The Office for National Statistics suggest that marriage rates have been the lowest they have ever been in 2007 while a study by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia found that marriage rates in the U.S. have been declining since 1960, the marriage rate from 1970 to 2008 decreasing from 76.5 to 37.4 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women.[3]
Although there are several factors explaining the decline in marriage such as the acceptability of single life or the recession, these factors do not explain why the decline in marriage rates is increasing over time. Even if single life is considered more acceptable, that should not change the number of people who initially want to get married so there should be a decrease and eventual flat lining of marriage rates if the sole factor was perceptions of single life. Furthermore, the global recession began in 2008 with many developed countries experiencing bubbles from 1990 to 2000 which undermines recession being a factor contributing toward marriage rates.
The breakdown in marriage is not because homosexuals want to get married as some religious groups claim. On the contrary, accepting gay marriage may be necessary to save the institution given the fact that so many heterosexual couples are refusing to get married. The breakdown in marriage in its current form is a result of conservative values holding only the traditional perception of a nuclear family, the maintenance of traditional structures despite changing circumstances making marriage a worse choice for many women to accept. If we want to protect the institution of marriage, we need to rethink the conception from the simple union between a man and a women to a union between two partners who contribute equally to maintaining their household.

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