The Scope Of Equity Theory And Close Relationships
Researchers using equity theory have examined close relationships like friendships and family relationships. By far, though, the most researched type of relationship has been the heterosexual romantic relationship and much of the research reported here reflects that bias. Changes in sex role expectations for men and women, an increased number of women in the workforce, and an increased expectation of companionship and emotional intimacy in marriage has resulted in a more egalitarian, or equality-oriented, marital ideal over the past few decades (VanYperen and Buunk 1994). Equity theory provides an excellent framework for researchers interested in studying marital equality because it specifically focuses on perceived fairness in relationships. Furthermore, psychologists and sociologists have long noted differing outcomes of marriage for men and women in regard to well-being. Equity theory can be used as a framework to help explain their findings.
Equity theory is occasionally used to study close relationships in families. For example, perceptions of fairness, particularly in conflict management between parents and children, have been found to affect how siblings interact with each other later in life (Handel 1986). Equity theory has also been used to examine how satisfied parents and children are with their relationships and how perceived equity or inequity relates to different ways of maintaining a satisfying relationship between parents and children (Vogl-Bauer, Kalbfleisch, and Beatty 1999). However, most current research on equity theory and families focuses on the family's relationship with other institutions, such as education, welfare, and health care (see, for example, Wells, Kataoka, and Asarnow 2001).
Relatively little research has examined cultural or racial differences in regard to equity in interpersonal relationships, although there is some evidence that these characteristics affect both perceptions of fairness about sharing housework and providing income to the family and the amount of housework men perform (Coltrane and Valdez 1993; John, Shelton, and Luschen 1995). Research has also indicated that race may affect levels of distress resulting from perceived inequities in household labor (Rogers and Bird 1998). Additionally, in a cross-cultural analysis, Nico VanYperen and Bram Buunk (1991) found that the qualities seen as positive contributions to a relationship were different for Dutch and U.S. study participants. The Dutch participants saw social qualities, such as having friends, as more of a contribution to the relationship than the U.S. participants did. Conversely, the U.S. participants valued qualities associated with status, such as attractiveness and ambition, more than the Dutch participants did. These findings indicate that a person's racial, ethnic, or cultural identity and values may affect the way they judge fairness in a relationship as well as the characteristics and behaviors they label as costs and benefits.
Most research regarding equity theory and cultural or racial variables also considers the affects of gender. Research on Dutch couples has shown that gender role ideologies affect the division of housework and financial contributions to the family economy. For example, couples who are concerned with gender equality are more likely to split the division of labor in a way that benefits both partners, whereas couples with a more gender-stereotypic ideology tend to divide contributions along gender lines with women providing more domestic work and men providing more financial support (Kluwer, Heesink, and Van de Vliert 1997). This same pattern has also been demonstrated in U.S. couples as well (Blaisure and Allen 1995).