The study from researchers at the University of Chicago found that these characteristics in wives play less of a role in preventing conflict, perhaps because of different expectations among women and men in long-term relationships.
“Wives report more conflict if their husband is in poor health,” said the study’s lead author, James Iveniuk, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology. “If the wife is in poor health, there doesn’t seem to be any difference in terms of the quality of the marriage for the husband.”
The study analyzed data gathered in a national study from 953 heterosexual couples who were married or living together. Study participants ranged in age from 63 to 90 years old. The average length of their relationships was 39 years.
Funded by the National Institute on Aging, the National Social Life Health and Aging Project compared the characteristics of husbands to the characteristics of their wives — and vice versa — based on interviews with each person in which they were asked to describe themselves.
Iveniuk and his team of researchers found many gender differences when they examined personality traits, including openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and anxiety.
They added a new trait called “positivity,” described as a person’s overall desire to be seen in a positive light.
“Wives whose husbands show higher levels of positivity reported less conflict,” Ivenuik said. “However, the wives’ positivity had no association with their husbands’ reports of conflict.”
The study’s measurement of marital conflict could be summarized as, “How much does your spouse bother you?” said Dr. Linda J. Waite, Lucy Flower Professor of Urban Sociology and director of the Center on Aging at the National Opinion Research Center at the university.
The marital conflicts are not usually about fighting or violence, but rather whether one spouse criticizes the other, makes too many demands, or generally gets on the other person’s nerves, she noted.
The study also found that men who describe themselves as neurotic or extraverts tend to have wives who complain more about the quality of the marriage.
Husbands reported more criticism and demands from their wives overall, but also higher levels of emotional, the researchers reported.
The researchers suggest that future studies might examine the question of whether low levels of conflict in marriages require not only the absence of frustrating factors, such as poor health and negative traits, but also a better balance of emotional responsibilities between husbands and wives.
They say some of those differences between husbands and wives may change as researchers study younger couples entering later life as compared to the current generation of older couples who may have more conventional gender roles.
The study was published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.
Source: The University of Chicago