Equity theory has provided a solid framework for examining perceived fairness in close relationships. Research has focused mainly on heterosexual romantic relationships because of the close link between the development, implementation, and perpetuation of fairness rules in this type of relationship with expectations and perceptions of gender roles. Some theorists disagree with the assumption that close, personal relationships should be based upon calculated inputs and outcomes, whereas other researchers support the idea that, at least for marriages, partners should be vigilant to ensure that both spouses benefit equally from the relationship. Although equity theory has long been associated with the fairness rule of proportionality, the rule of equality is also compatible with equity theory, and research examining the use of this rule in close relationships provides a substantial body of literature in support of the theory.
Equity theory states that when inequity exists, relational parties become distressed. Support is mixed regarding whether participants in overbenefiting or underbenefiting relationships suffer the same type or extent of distress. Distress arising from perceived inequities in marital relationships has been the focus of researchers using the equality rule. In particular, women in inequitable marital relationships report more psychological and physical symptoms, such as headaches and depression, whereas men seem to suffer emotional detachment and relational boredom. Although equality researchers tend to assume victims of inequity will psychologically adjust their perceptions to believe that no injustice exists, little research exists to support this assumption. In fact, little research examines how partners set about reestablishing equity in their relationships at all, although negative relational behaviors such as extramarital affairs and violence have been explored.
Surprisingly, not much research has examined equity theory in family relationships, intercultural relationships, or other close relationships such as friendships. However, the research that has been conducted shows promising results for equity theory. As changes in society continue, their impact on close relationships will surely continue to affect expectations and perceptions of fairness. Beliefs about fairness are bound in cultural and political ideologies. As global communications become easier and international boundaries shrink, interpersonal relationships will become a greater focus for researchers. Fairness rules and their appropriateness and application to different types of relationships will no doubt continue to be a central theme.
See also: CONFLICT: COUPLE RELATIONSHIPS; DECISION MAKING; DIVISION OF LABOR; DUAL-EARNER FAMILIES; HOUSEWORK; MARITAL TYPOLOGIES; POWER: MARITAL RELATIONSHIPS; RELATIONSHIP DISSOLUTION; RELATIONSHIP MAINTENANCE; SOCIAL EXCHANGE THEORY; WORK AND FAMILY
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ALAINA M. WINTERS