Sex-Role Adjustments in Early Adulthood

Sex-role adjustments during early adulthood are extremely difficult. Long before adolescence is over, boys and girls are well aware of the approved adult sex roles but this does not necessarily lead to acceptance. Many adolescent girls want to play the role of wife and mother when they reach adulthood, but they do not want to be wives and mothers in the traditional sense – being subordinate to their husbands, devoting most of their time to their homes and children, and having few or no outside interests. Their reason for wanting to avoid playing the traditional female role has been explained by Arnott and Bengston:

The role of “homemaker” is undervalued in the United States, where occupation is the key to the assignment or role status, and achievement and monetary value tend to provide the criteria for social ranking. In contemporary America, women tend to absorb the same values as the men with whom they are educated, and to use these men as reference persons in comparing role rewards. Educated women in the “homemaker only” role may feel a sense of “relative deprivation” in the distribution of social status. A “homemaker-plus” role (such as the addition of employment to home duties) may promise greater social recognition.

The hope of many of today’s young women for an egalitarian marriage is based not on wishful thinking but on the realization that there have been marked changes in the adult pattern of living. For example, wives often work until their husbands finish their education or become established in business, or they take jobs in order to acquire various status symbols that the family would otherwise be unable to afford. Most important of all, young women are aware of the breakdown of the “double standard,” not only in sexual and moral behavior, but also in social, business, and professional life.

In fact, the traditional concepts are gradually being modified or even replaced by new, more egalitarian ones – concepts that stress similar behavior patterns for members of the two sexes. These egalitarian concepts have found acceptance among all social groups, even those which formerly held firmly to traditional concepts of the male and female roles. The traditional and egalitarian concepts of adult sex roles are given in below:

Concepts of Adult Sex Roles

Traditional Concepts

Traditional concepts of sex roles emphasize a prescribed pattern of behavior, regardless of individual interests or abilities. They emphasize masculine supremacy and intolerance toward any trait that hints of femininity or any work that is considered “woman’s work.”


Outside the home the man holds positions of authority and prestige in the social and business worlds; in the home he is the wage earner, decision maker, adviser and disciplinarian of the children, and model of masculinity for his sons.


Both in the home and outside, the role of the woman is other-oriented in that she gains fulfillment by serving others. She is not expected to work outside the home except in cases of financial necessity, and then she does only work that serves others, such as nursing, teaching, or secretarial work.

Egalitarian Concepts

Egalitarian concepts of sex roles emphasize individuality and the egalitarian status of men and women. Roles should lead to personal fulfillment and not be considered appropriate for only one sex.


In the home and outside, the man works with the woman in a companionship relationship. He does not feel “henpecked” if he treats his wife as an equal, nor does he feel ashamed if she has a more prestigious or remunerative job than he does.


Both in the home and outside, the woman is able to actualize her own potentials. She does not feel guilty about using her abilities and training to give her satisfaction, even if this requires employing someone else to take care of the home and children.

Many young women recognize the low prestige associated with the traditional role of wife and mother, and consequently they have little motivation to learn this role. When they become wives and mothers, they see little opportunity for escape from this role into one they previously found more satisfying and personally rewarding. Conflict between what they would like to do and what they know they must do further weakens their motivation to play the traditionally prescribed sex role. The conflicts and frustrations many young women in the American culture experience are heightened by the constant bombardment of advice from the mass media to play a role other than that of the traditional wife and mother.