Inequality at home: Men feel they have less power than women in their private lives

LUND, Sweden — It’s an age-old question couples get asked: Who “wears the pants” in the relationship? Although much of the world’s focus has been on improving equality for women in society, a new study reveals men actually believe they’re the ones with less power. Researchers in Sweden say both men and women agree power over their private lives matters more and that’s where men feel they’re at a disadvantage.

A team from Lund, Stockholm, and Gävle Universities surveyed 808 Americans about the areas they consider most important in life. Study authors also asked about how much power each person felt they had over those aspects.

Researchers say power is often connected to men who have either wealth or status. While this mostly focuses on their public perception, it can also translate to a person’s private life through their relationships with partners, children, and friends. The study finds men perceive themselves as holding less power in private, regardless of public appearance.

“The debate on gender equality tends to focus on topics in the public domain such as salaries, leadership in companies and politics, where women are underrepresented. However, our results influence how we should view power today”, says Lund’s Sverker Sikström in a university release.

Power struggle: ‘The case for equality also needs to be made in private life’

Study authors say that American men say they feel more powerful in public, but women view themselves as the stronger force at home. Overall, the private life ranked as more important to all the respondents. When researchers accounted for the level of importance men and women place on certain areas of their lives, the study revealed gender differences regarding power disappeared.

Researchers believe while public attention tends to focus on the inequalities facing working women, things even out behind closed doors. The team adds however, men face serious and less talked about issues when dealing with a troubled home life.

“It is difficult to maintain the position that men have more power than women, when women are perceived as having more power in the areas that are viewed as the most important. The case for equality also needs to be made in the private life, where men often lose custody cases, are more negatively affected by separations, and have weaker networks of friends. Thus, equality needs to be improved both for men and women, in both private and public life,” Sikström explains.

Study authors note their findings come from the perceptions of their volunteers and don’t use any objective measure regarding the concept of power.

The study appears in the journal PLOS ONE.

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