Changing Gender Roles - Do Unmarried Cohabiting Men Have More Egalitarian Family Related Attitudes?

Tuesday, 12 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 41 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Kadri RAID, University of Tartu, Estonia
Kairi KASEARU, University of Tartu, Estonia
During past decades important changes have taken place in Western societies and strict norms that controlled family life have loosened. Non-traditional family forms, especially unmarried cohabitation have become increasingly popular - for instance in Estonia it is accepted as alternative to marriage. That is also illustrated by the fact that in recent years over 60% of children were born out of wedlock. Different studies, mostly carried out in the US or Scandinavian countries, have shown that people who prefer cohabitation hold less traditional values (Huang, et al 2011; Noack & Wiik 2008). The traditional gender role expectation is that men are the initiators of important family events, e.g. propose marriage. This allows asking whether cohabiting men are representing egalitarian gender role attitudes and therefore prefer not to marry or are there other mechanisms behind it? Estonia as the former socialist country forms a good model to test this argument because of being witnessing most dramatic and overwhelming changes that determined deepening of the intergenerational gap in people’s values. Using mixed methods approach we analyze data collected in the Estonian Men Survey in the year 2014 (N=1373, in age 15-55) together with semi-structured interviews of married or cohabiting men (N=13).  Our results show that cohabiting men are not only egalitarian but their attitudes also reflected ambivalence. That is important finding, while it emphasizes that cohabitation might not be a product of egalitarian values but ambivalence and cohabitation itself may initiate the ambivalent attitudes. This also supports the idea of norms and counter norms, people still carry old norms as they try to act according to new ones. Thus, our results point out that the unmarried cohabiting unions are characterized by mixed feelings towards men’s role and gender equality in a relationship, which in turn may increase the uncertainty of these unions.