Women Pursue Equal Relationships

view printable version here

March 6, 2014

CONTACT: Andreea Nica, Media Specialist, Sociologists for Women in Society
Phone: (323) 577-9148

Email: swsmedia@ku.edu

Women Pursue Equal Relationships: Face Social Pressures 

Women today strive to establish equal relationships, yet it remains hard to do. New research from Gender & Society reveals that women increasingly seek egalitarian partnerships with men, while still engaging in traditional dating rituals.

Sociologist Ellen Lamont at New York University interviewed 38 college-educated women in her study “Negotiating Courtship: Reconciling Egalitarian Ideals with Traditional Gender Norms.” Her study, forthcoming in the April issue of Gender & Society, a top-ranked journal in Gender Studies and Sociology, finds that the women interviewed decisively pursued egalitarian relationships with men, but still adhered to conventional gender norms while dating.

The women in the study – highly educated, high-income professionals – expressed that their practice of reinforcing gender differences in their dating lives did not impact their egalitarian ideals. Despite their egalitarian beliefs, many of the participants still believed that when it comes to dating, men are responsible for asking women out, paying for dates, determining when the relationship will shift from casual to committed, and proposing marriage.

Why do women uphold gendered dating traditions despite egalitarian ideals?

  • The women in the study believe that men are “naturally” hesitant to make a commitment in a relationship. In this case, the women did not want to put men off by explicitly proposing marriage or a committed relationship.
  • Women feared rejection from men if they initiated a date, or other courtship activities.
  • Some of the women preferred being pursued and desired, rather than being the one who initiates.

What has changed?

  • The women in the research openly described their ideal relationship to be one in which partners equally shared economic, housework, and child care responsibilities.
  • Three quarters of the 32 women who had or wanted children had not interrupted or would choose not to interrupt their careers.
  • The study cites research (Gerson 2010) that if an egalitarian relationship is not possible, women would rather choose financial independence than a traditional partnership.

Room for improvement

  • While the women interviewed were mostly successful in getting what they wanted in their relationships, they felt the need to disguise nontraditional behavior due to social pressures. For example, to ensure men desired commitment, some women concealed their own desires for commitment.
  • Lamont suggests an apparent contradiction in that the women exhibit traditional dating norms, which reinforce beliefs about natural gender difference, while pursuing egalitarian ideals in relationships.
  • According to Lamont, if women continue to retain traditional dating rituals and uphold differing relational expectations for men, this will only reinforce non-egalitarian behavior.

The research highlights progress as women continue to pave the road for cascading levels of equality in relationships, yet demonstrates that women continue to feel constrained by social expectations and gender norms.



: Lamont, Ellen. 2013. “Negotiating Courtship: Reconciling Egalitarian Ideals with Traditional Gender Norms” forthcoming in April Gender & Society.

Contact: Ellen Lamont, Doctoral Candidate of Sociology and Author, New York University, reach her at ellen.lamont@nyu.edu.

Related Experts
Interviews available upon request

Paula England, Professor of Sociology, New York University, Author of “The Gender Revolution: Uneven and Stalled,” pengland@nyu.edu.

Kathleen Gerson, Professor of Sociology, New York University, Author of The Unfinished Revolution: How a New Generation is Reshaping Family, Work, and Gender in America, kathleen.gerson@nyu.edu.

Sharon Sassler, Professor in Department of Policy Analysis and Management, Cornell University, Co-author of “Waiting to be asked: Gender, Power, and Relationship Progression among Cohabiting Couples,” ss589@cornell.edu.

Related Studies

The Uneven Pace of Change in Heterosexual Romantic Relationships: Comment on England by Nikki L. Graf and Christine R. Schwartz in Gender & Society, February 2011; vol. 25, 1: pp. 101-107, first published on December 22, 2010.

The Gender Revolution: Uneven and Stalled by Paula England in Gender & Society, April 2010; vol. 24, 2: pp. 149166.

Moral dilemmas, moral strategies, and the transformation of gender: Lessons from two generations of work and family change by Kathleen Gerson in Gender & Society, February 2002; vol. 16, 1: pp. 828.

Further information

Gender & Society is a peer-reviewed journal, focused on the study of gender. It is the official journal of Sociologists for Women in Society, and was founded in 1987 as an outlet for feminist social science. Currently, it is a top-ranked journal in both sociology and gender studies. Gender & Society, a journal of Sage Publications, publishes less than seven percent of all papers submitted to it. For additional commentary, you can also read the Gender & Society blog and follow the journal on twitter: @Gend_Soc.

For more information, contact Gender & Society editor Joya Misra, Professor of Sociology and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts. Her research and teaching focus primarily on inequality. She can be reached at misra@soc.umass.edu.

Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS) currently headquartered at the University of Kansas, works to improve women’s lives through advancing and supporting feminist sociological research, activism and scholars. Founded in 1969, SWS is a nonprofit, scientific and educational organization with more than 1,000 members in the United States and overseas. For more information, contact Dr. Joey Sprague, Professor of Sociology at the University of Kansas and SWS Executive Officer, at jsprague@ku.edu.