One Big Predictor of Divorce: The Husband’s Job
These two opening paragraphs in this New York Magazine article validated what I’ve been discussing here for nearly a decade. With one new wrinkle:
“Despite the myths you might have heard, half of American first marriages don’t end in divorce. In reality, about a third do, down from the divorce surge of the 1970s and 1980s, though second and third marriages are much more vulnerable. Recent marriages are doing particularly well thus far: Just 15 percent of the Americans who tied the knot since 2000 have decided to get it undone within the first eight years of marriage.
The predictors of divorce, however, remain mysterious. But in a new study published in the American Sociological Review, Harvard sociologist Alexandra Achen Killewald has found that the things that increase the probability of divorce – as they relate to work, at least – have changed over the past couple decades. It turns out that the amount of money that either the husband or wife makes isn’t that important: For contemporary couples, the biggest determinant is whether the husband is working full-time.”
An unemployed (or semi-employed) husband is not only failing to fulfill his expected role of contributing to the household financially, but this failure takes a toll on his self-esteem, his masculinity, how his wife sees him, and how they interact as a couple.
I’ve written before about other predictors of divorce: Marrying too young. Marrying too quickly. Marrying too slowly. Breaking up and making up. But this new information helps to round out the picture that most of us have been painting anecdotally.
“The results contradict a couple of the leading explanations for why people divorce and why so many people broke up in the 70s and 80s in particular. Drawing from that data, Killewald concludes that the “material circumstance” of the couple has little to do with divorce: neither how much money either partner makes nor the wages they earn relative to one another are determining factors. Also, it doesn’t appear to be the case that the financial dependence – or independence – of the wife is affecting the likelihood that a couple splits up. For couples in the post-1975 cohort, the way they divvy up unpaid labor – household chores, taking care of the kids – had little effect on divorce probability.”
“This shows that, for contemporary couples, wives can combine paid and unpaid labor in various ways without threatening the stability of their marriages,” Killewald wrote to Science of Us in an email. ”But, for those same marriage cohorts, the risk of divorce increases substantially when the husband isn’t employed full-time.” While the homemaker ideal has waned in importance, the notion of the breadwinner is still hanging on.
My interpretation is that an unemployed (or semi-employed) husband is not only failing to fulfill his expected role of contributing to the household financially, but this failure takes a toll on his self-esteem, his masculinity, how his wife sees him, and how they interact as a couple. As the article points out, this isn’t the be-all, end-all for divorce studies. But I do think a man’s working status is a common catalyst for what psychologist John Gottman calls the Four Horsemen of divorce: contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and emotional withdrawal.
Your thoughts below, are greatly appreciated.