The Foundations of Marital Generosity

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Principal Investigator: Bradford Wilcox, University of Virginia

“The Foundations of Marital Generosity” (FMG) seeks to determine the cultural and social sources of marital generosity inside and outside of the home among young married adults between the ages of 18 and 45. It will examine how beliefs and behaviors related to familism (i.e., a strong normative commitment to lifelong marriage and to faithfully fulfilling family obligations), religious faith, and gender in the United States influence the generosity of spouses toward one another in marriage and toward others outside their families. The project will also explore the possibility that generosity within and outside of marriage can foster higher levels of marital quality.

In considering these two questions—how are familism, religion, and gender egalitarianism linked to generosity inside and outside of marriage, and does generosity inside and outside of marriage predict higher levels of marital quality—this project defines generosity in marriage as going beyond the common marital obligations. That is, FMG takes marriage to entail more than the fidelity, clear communication, ordinary affection, and housework that commonly expected of married couples.

Rather, this project defines marital generosity as regularly serving one’s spouse in the practical and emotional details of family life; regularly forgiving one’s spouse; and making costly sacrifices for one’s spouse. It defines generosity outside of marriage as helping others, financial giving and volunteering for civic organizations. To determine the relationships, either positive or negative, between familism, religion, and gender egalitarianism and generosity, FMG will conduct an Internet survey that queries 1,500 married couples from 18–45 around the United States. This survey will ask detailed questions about marital generosity, giving, helping, and volunteering outside the home; familism, religion, gender beliefs and behaviors; and relationship quality (e.g., global happiness, conflict, divorce proneness).

FMG aims to make a signal contribution to scholarly and popular understandings of the social and cultural sources of generosity inside and outside of marriage, as well as understandings of the impact that generosity has on the quality of married life in the United States. In doing so, it will pay particular attention to the ways in which two different models of marriage—an “institutional” model and a “soulmate” model—foster generosity.

The project is additionally valuable because no scholarship has systematically
considered how the family, secular, and gender revolutions of the last half-century have affected the practice of generosity inside and outside of contemporary marriages in the U.S.; and no study has sought to explore how generosity affects the quality of married life.

The project is directed by W. Bradford Wilcox of the Department of Sociology and the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, in collaboration with Jeffrey Dew at Utah State University.