We relate relationship satisfaction and thoughts about leaving a romantic relationship to a couple’s relative and absolute resources and check for context-dependency of those associations. Our theoretical point of departure is that the more resources women have compared to their spouses, the higher their intra-household bargaining power to negotiate themselves out of unpleasant tasks, particularly in gender-egalitarian and very income equal and unequal societies. In traditional societies (which score low on the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM)), the inflexible role of men within the household presumably prevents women from bargaining a better position, which in turn negatively affects relationship quality. Income equality (low GINI coefficient) may be a prerequisite for women’s bargaining position, where more inequality (mid-GINI) may be detrimental for it. Nevertheless, extreme income inequality (high GINI) may again be favorable for women’s relationship power. Using country fixed effects models on data from the Generations and Gender Surveys (GGS), we compare men and women who are in a couple (formed after 1995) for eight European countries. We find that absolute resources matter more than relative resources, at least for relationship satisfaction: Higher educated couples are more satisfied with their relationships, which could suggest lower stress levels in those couples (in more traditional contexts). Second, we observe GINI context-dependency of the association between relative education and relationship satisfaction for women and relative education and exit thoughts for men, although opposite to what we expected. Perhaps reference group theory or gender display theory can explain these unexpected results. Finally, we find that women have more break-up plans in societies with a lower score on GEM. This last result is consistent with the notion that bargaining only works in egalitarian contexts.

absolute resources, bargaining, break-up plans, gender equality, Relationship satisfaction, relative resources
dx.doi.org/10.1080/13668803.2018.1526776, hdl.handle.net/1765/112531
Community, Work & Family
Centre for Rotterdam Cultural Sociology (CROCUS)

van Damme, M. (Maike), & Dykstra, P.A. (2018). Spousal resources and relationship quality in eight European countries. Community, Work & Family, 21(5), 541–563. doi:10.1080/13668803.2018.1526776