According to researchers in the U.S. as far as women and marriage are concerned the single most important factor for most wives was their husbands' emotional engagement.
It appears that money, the division of household chores and other factors all take a back seat.
The study by University of Virginia sociologists W. Bradford Wilcox and Steven L. Nock found that women whose husbands earn the lion's share of income, who don't work outside the home, or who share a strong commitment to lifelong marriage with their husbands report the highest levels of marital happiness.
This according to the authors, is in sharp contrast to academic conventional wisdom.
It was found that perceptions of fairness are important for married women and those who report that the division of housework is fair, are happier in their marriages than women who think that their husbands don't do their fair share.
The study, "What's Love Got to do With It? Equality, Equity, Commitment and Women's Marital Quality," draws on the National Survey of Families and Households, which sampled more than 5,000 couples around the United States.
In a related but as yet unpublished study by Wilcox, it was found that even women who support egalitarian ideas, those who think that men and women should both earn income and share housework equally, are happier in their marriages when their husbands earn the lion's share of income and when they do not work outside of the home.
Wilcox says that regardless of what married women say they believe about gender, they tend to have happier marriages when their husband is a good provider as long as he is also emotionally engaged.
Most research on American marriages has focused on the division of housework and paid work and who does what inside and outside the home.
This new study however shows wives care most about how affectionate and understanding their husbands are, and how much quality time they spend with their husbands.
Finally, women who have more traditional attitudes -- who believe, for instance, that women should take the lead in taking care of the home and family, and that men should take the lead in earning -- are happier in their marriages, report more affection and understanding from their husbands, and spend more quality time with their husbands.
Commitment also appears to matter and women who share with their husbands a strong commitment to lifelong marriage are much more likely to report that they are happy in their marriages, and that they are happy with the affection and understanding they receive from their husbands, compared to women who do not have such a commitment to marriage.
Shared commitment seems to generate mutual trust and higher levels of emotional investment on the part of husbands -- both factors which promote marital happiness among women.
Fairness does matter in shaping the quality and character of women's marriages.
Married women are happier in their marriages when they think housework is divided fairly and they perceive their marriage to be equitable.
Wilcox is an assistant professor of sociology at U.Va. and currently is serving as a resident fellow at the Institute for American Values in New York City.
Nock is a professor of sociology at U.Va.
The study appears in the March issue of Social Forces, and is available online (PDF) .
The unpublished study by Wilcox can be seen here (DOC).