Arguments over finances are often cited as one of the key predictors of divorce. However, a new study published in the American Sociological Review suggests employment status and gender expectations might have more to do with a couple’s risk of divorce than how much money they’re each making.
Alexandra Killewald, a sociology professor at Harvard, examined 6,3000 heterosexual couples and discovered when all factors are equal, husbands not working full-time were 33% more likely to divorce in the following 12 months than men holding full-time jobs.
“Contemporary husbands face higher risk of divorce when they do not fulfill the stereotypical breadwinner role by being employed full-time,” Killewald said.
The data fails to explain why jobs are so critical in maintaining marital stability, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the couple’s finances. Even after adjusting for income, the figures didn’t change.
Killewald uncovered some interesting findings regarding how gender expectations have changed over the past few decades.
For couples married before 1975, a husband was actually less likely to divorce if he was not employed full-time, and wives in those marriages who did 50% of the housework were more likely to divorce than those who did 75%.
Today, there is no link between divorce risk and the amount of household duties performed by the wife. Much progress has been made over the last 40 years in terms of gender equality in the workplace as millions of women have left the house to join the workforce. Forty percent of American households with children under the age of 18 include a mother who is either the sole or primary earner for her family. Based on the findings of Killewald’s study, a wife’s risk of divorce is not affected when she chooses focus more on advancing her career.
While women’s rise in the labor force doesn’t seem to be negatively impacting the stability of their marriages, antiquated stereotypes about the role men should play in the family still remain.
The average risk of divorce for modern husbands who were not fully employed was 3.3% compared to 2.5% for those employed full-time.
This indicates that the male breadwinner is still a very important feature of marriages. That is a concerning statistic considering the number of stay-at-home dads has doubled over the last 15 years, according to data from Pew Research Center.
These double standards unfortunately often extend into the family courts. Whether it be a flawed child support system, a lack of rights for unmarried fathers, or states that allow permanent alimony to wreck retirement plans, men often face an uphill climb when trying to get a fair shake in their divorce or child custody cases.
Research has even shown an anti-dad bias in parenting programs designed to help moms and dads become better parents.
While women certainly have overcome numerous barriers – and will continue to do so – it’s important that progress doesn’t come at the expense of others. True equality should not just benefit one gender, but everyone.
“Whenever you hear the words gender equality, what that translates to is rights for women, and of course we applaud that,” said Cordell & Cordell Principal Partner Joe Cordell. “We applaud the fact that women are now in many cases on a perfectly level playing field in the marketplace, but let’s aspire to a level playing field in family courts as well.”