A recent study by a professor based at Harvard University has found that a husband’s employment in an opposite-sex marriage is a major factor in divorce. In marriages before the mid 1970s, the most prominent factor in the risk for divorce was a husband’s share of housework. After the 1970s, however, there has been a shift from the share of housework to employment status. It is worth noting that the study did not cover same sex marriage, nor did it address men who choose to stay at home with the children.
Employment Status as a Divorce Risk Factor
Using data from the 1968 to 2013 waves of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, Harvard sociology Professor Alexandra Killewald set out to examine and predict divorce risks in opposite-sex marriages. In doing her study, Professor Killewald sought “how the roles and responsibilities in marriage changed over time and influenced the chance of divorce”. Her study found differences in marriages prior to 1975 and in marriages after 1975.
Professor Killewald looked at the various aspects of a couple’s working life, such as employment status, willingness to do housework, and differences in finances. She also used a large set of census data to predict wives’ economic dependence on their marriages and how much they would lose if they go through with divorce.
Professor Killewald examined 46 years of data on more than 6,300 married opposite-sex couples in the United States. She found that couples married before 1975 were likelier to get a divorce if husbands and wives shared housework equally, because husbands saw equal domestic work as a threat to their traditional breadwinning role in the household. After 1975, the sociology professor found that housework hasn’t been much of a factor in divorce, instead, the husband’s job has.
Professor Killewald found that since the mid 1970s, husbands who have full-time employment have a 2.5 percent chance of getting a divorce. This percentage is lower than the 3.3 percent rate for husbands without full-time employment. In other words, husbands without full-time employment are one-third more likely to split up with their wives than those with full-time jobs.
Economic Independence of Women: Not a Risk for Divorce
The Harvard professor also found no strong evidence that the economic independence of women can increase divorce rates in opposite-sex couples.
“That’s surprising,” said New York University sociology professor Paula England, but she also stated that she found Killewald’s methodology very sound and its conclusions convincing.
England added, “I’m sure that financial strain hurts people’s well-being, but it doesn’t seem to be causing marriage breakup.”
Professor Killewald’s study on the factors affecting divorce in opposite-sex couples was published in the American Sociological Review.