Do Gay, Lesbian, and Heterosexual Spouses Differ in the Ways They Care for Each Other During Physical Illness?
MetadataShow full item record
An important benefit of marriage may be the care provided by spouses during episodes of physical illness and is one reason that married people enjoy better health and longer life expectancies than those who are unmarried. While gendered differences in spousal care may result from gendered power relations within heterosexual marriages that privilege men, same-sex couples typically enjoy greater egalitarianism compared to different-sex couples. Therefore, the inclusion of same-sex married couples in studies of marriage and physical illness illuminates and challenges assumptions about gender that are routinely taken for granted. This research brief explores instrumental-care work and emotion-care work for physical illness in same- and different-sex married couples. Instrumental-care work includes activities designed to meet the physical needs of a spouse who is a patient, such as taking care of tasks that the patient normally handles or dealing with medical providers for the patient. Emotion-care work focuses on the emotional needs of the patient-spouse, such as providing emotional support or worrying about their spouse. In some cases, the patient may also provide emotion care to their spouse, such as worrying about the stress their health event is causing their spouse or doing things to take stress off their spouse during their own health event. The authors also explore the extent to which the health event contributes to stress in the marriage. Two studies that analyze gendered marital dynamics around care work for physical illness are covered here. One study analyzes survey data collected during 2014-2015 from both spouses in 420 couples (840 individuals) who were married for at least 3 years at the time of the survey: 171 lesbian couples, 124 gay couples, and 125 heterosexual couples. With a mean age of 48.5 years (range 35-65 years old), this sample covers the experiences of marital dynamics with care work at midlife. Using the factorial method, the authors examine care work with multilevel regression modeling. The second study analyzes qualitative data collected from 90 in-depth interviews conducted with both spouses in lesbian, gay, and heterosexual marriages. In both studies, spouses report on their and their spouse’s most significant illness episodes.