Of Housewives, Mothers and Mary
The system of marriage and family life which had dominated the post-famine countryside was transformed by changes in the rural economy. Rural life changed significantly as a result of the decline in traditional farming throughout the 1940s and 1950s and the policies of economic development initiated by the government in the early 1960s. When Damien Hannon and Louise Katsiaouni interviewed 400 farming families in the 1970s they found a great mixture of family ‘styles’. One household might consist of a traditionally patriarchal family in which the father made all the decisions and was never seen cooking or putting the children to bed. Next door might be a farm of the same size where the husband and wife had a mutually supportive relationship and made decisions together. Overall they found that only one in three families conformed to the traditional model of the rural family. Between a quarter and a third of the families had a more ‘modern’ pattern of joint decision-making, some sharing of household and child-care tasks and a more open emotional relationship. The remaining families showed a variety of intermediate patterns. A particularly interesting finding of the study was a large variation in the wives’ satisfaction with their husband’s role. The results were a big ‘thumbs down’ to traditional marriage. Half the wives in this situation were dissatisfied, compared with only one in eight of the ‘modern’ wives.1
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