Financial stress and fights over money can eat away at a marriage. But do they cause divorce? That’s a more complicated matter.
A Harvard University study suggests that neither financial strains nor women’s increased ability to get out of an unhappy marriage, starting in the 1970s, is typically the main reason for a split.
The big factor, Harvard sociology professor Alexandra Killewald found, is the husband’s employment status.For the past four decades, she discovered, husbands who aren’t employed full time have a3.3% chance of getting divorced in any given year, compared with 2.5% for husbands employed full time. Hence, their marriages are one-third more likely to fall apart.
Examining 46 years of data on more than 6,300 married couples in the US, Killewald found a big shift in the risk of divorce in the mid-1970s. Couples married before 1975 were likelier to split up if women and men divided the housework equally , perhaps because the husband saw a threat to his traditional roles. Since 1975, housework hasn’t been much of a factor. The guy’s job has. “Wives have more freedom in how they `do’ marriage,“ Killewald said, but husbands are still expected to be the breadwinner. The study didn’t include same-sex couples. Nor did it address men who choose to stay home with the kids. The vast majority of men without a full-time job in the sample were involuntarily unemployed.
Killewald had to untangle a couple’s working life -employment status, willingness to do housework–from their finances to see which of the two was the greater factor. She used a larger set of census data to predict wives’ economic dependence on their marriages -how much they would lose if they got divorced.
Her conclusion: The couples’ income and the wives’ economic independence didn’t correlate with a higher risk of divorce.