Photo by emyeu sss7, Flickr CC

Scholars tend to categorize relationships into two types — traditional, where one partner does the majority of housework and caring for children (typically the woman), and egalitarian, where these tasks are equally shared between partners. Among heterosexual couples, there has been a recent shift towards more egalitarian relationships, but this does not mean that all people define gender equality in the same way. New research from Carly Knight and Mary Brinton shows that there are actually three different ways Europeans define and subscribe to ideals of egalitarianism.

The authors use data from multiple surveys across 17 European countries. Respondents had to agree or disagree with statements about importance of a job for women’s independence, the primacy of men’s jobs over women’s, and women’s “natural” mothering abilities and desires to stay at home. 

It turns out that egalitarianism takes three forms: liberal egalitarianism, egalitarian familism, and flexible egalitarianism. The largest number of people fall under the liberal egalitarian group, which includes those who strongly support women’s participation in the labor force and believe that husbands and wives should both contribute to household incomes. Egalitarian familists are closer to traditionalists in their thinking that women should participate in the paid labor force, but that the home and family are more crucial parts of women’s identities. The third group, flexible egalitarians, equally support women’s decisions to enter the workforce or stay at home and do more traditionally feminine domestic work. Even though all of these people subscribe to some kind of equal division of labor in heterosexual relationships, this research shows that there is more than one way to understand these important changing family dynamics.