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Building a Life Together: Reciprocal and Negotiated Exchange in Fragile Families

Advances in Group Processes

ISBN: 978-0-85724-773-5, eISBN: 978-0-85724-774-2

Publication date: 17 November 2011


An ongoing debate in social exchange theory centers on the benefits and drawbacks of reciprocal versus negotiated exchange for dyadic relationships. Lawler's affect theory of social exchange argues that the interdependent nature of negotiated exchange enhances commitment to exchange relations, whereas Molm's reciprocity theory suggests that reciprocal exchange fosters more integrative bonds than the bilateral agreements of negotiation. In this chapter, we use data from in-depth, semi-structured interviews with poor and working-class couples to explore the effects of both types of exchange on relationship satisfaction. Consistent with reciprocity theory, we find that couples who engage in reciprocal exchange are happier and more satisfied with their relationship than those who explicitly negotiate the division of labor in their households and that the expressive value of these exchanges play an important role in this outcome. However, reciprocity is not enough. As predicted by the affect theory, the couples with the best outcomes also perceive supporting a family as a highly interdependent task, regardless of their family structure. Our results point to the complementary nature of these two theories in a natural social setting.


Collett, J.L. and Avelis, J. (2011), "Building a Life Together: Reciprocal and Negotiated Exchange in Fragile Families", Thye, S.R. and Lawler, E.J. (Ed.) Advances in Group Processes (Advances in Group Processes, Vol. 28), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 227-254.



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