Are Divorce Rates Affected by a Woman’s Employment Status?

Marriage has some implicit cultural norms. The concept of marriage carries a few assumptions including a monogamous relationship, co-residence, and a long-term commitment between a man and a woman who typically have children together. Divorce is a separation in such an arrangement. Economic factors and satisfaction with the married relationship are considered the two most important factors influencing divorce. The current study was aimed at documenting the impact of the rising incidence of women in employment and other factors on divorce. It followed married couples from 1987 till 1994 and found that just being employed did not influence divorce. Satisfaction with the marriage was more important than being financially independent.

Marriage is a social institution. Divorce takes place when any one of the partner feels unhappy with the marriage and initiates separation. It is known that two-thirds of divorces are initiated by women. Many theories have been put forward to explain the phenomenon of divorce. Some predict that, when one partner can financially support oneself and the children, the chances of opting out of an unhappy marriage then increase. Thus, as women’s employment increases, the odds of divorce would also increase. In fact, some research in the 1970s supported this notion. However, in modern times a majority of women are employed. Whether this affects divorce is not known. The present study looked at this aspect.

* Data from National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH), a national probability sample survey of 13,007 adults aged 19 and older, interviewed in 1987-88, was used.
* From this data, married couple households were selected. One adult was randomly chosen as the primary respondent, whose spouse also completed a self-administered questionnaire.
* The same couples were contacted in 1992 to 1994, and data was again obtained from both spouses. In cases of divorce between 1987 and 1994, both ex-spouses were interviewed individually and asked about the divorce.
* A similar exercise was repeated and information obtained in 2001-02. Statistical relationship was determined.

* Ex-spouses agreed on who initiated the divorce. For example, when the wife reported that she initiated it, 67 percent of husbands agreed, in addition 24 percent of husbands reported that both wanted to break up, and only 9 percent disagreed.
* Wives’ employment had no significant additive effect on whether women or men leave if they were happy with the marriage. However, husbands’ employment reduced the chances of either spouse’s leaving. Each additional month of men’s employment reduced the odds that the wife would leave by 2.4 percent.
* Women who were older when they married had reduced odds of leaving, but wives who were three or more years older than their husbands had approximately doubled odds of being left.
* Wives who did not grow up with both parents were more likely to leave their husbands. This effect was not seen in men.

Marriage is a social institution based traditionally on different roles attributed to the two genders, where often the women were homemakers. The increase in the rate of women’s employment has caused one of the biggest changes in marital relations in recent decades. Social theories imply that women’s employment would make it more likely that women will leave marriages. The present study found that women’s employment did not encourage them to exit from marriage if they were satisfied with their marriage, For those who assessed their marriages negatively, being employed raised the odds of leaving. The study also found that wives’ employment had no effect either positive or negative, on men’s initiation of divorce. However, men’s employment encouraged women to stay in the marriage.

For More Information:
She Left, He Left : How Employment and Satisfaction Affect Women’s and Men’s Decisions to Leave Marriages
Publication Journal: American Journal of Sociology, May 2011
Liana C. Sayer; Paula England; Ohio State University and Stanford University, Palo Alto, California

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