Employment and its Influence on Divorce


A recent online article I came across discussed the interesting issue of whether a spouse’s job loss has an impact on whether the parties will divorce. The author related anecdotally his own experience in having been laid off and how he believed this job loss had served as the catalyst for his divorce.

The article described how the author’s subsequent job search dragged out despite his best efforts and how his wife, understandably, became more and more concerned for the family. In this regard, he related how his wife became more tense and fearful, which led to stress between the two of them.

Eight months later the author and his wife had separated, and his wife had filed for divorce. While he found employment just a few months later, at a pay increase, the inertia of the divorce process as well as the bad feelings that had been generated between he and his wife were too great to reconcile. They finalized their divorce shortly thereafter.

His experience appears to now be backed by social science. In a recent academic study out of Ohio State, researchers looked at the inter-relationship between employment and marital satisfaction, in effect the impact of job loss on divorce. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3347912/.

Citing to the fact that past research consistently showed approximately two-thirds of divorces were initiated by women, whether “initiation” was assessed by asking who wanted the divorce more or by who filed legal papers, the researchers in this study sought to uncover the separate determinants of both men’s and women’s initiation of divorce as no published studies had yet analyzed such determinants of divorce in the U.S.

The results of their findings suggested that men’s employment encouraged women to stay in the marriage. This result may be surprising, as we often do not like to concede the influence of money on love and relationships. However, according to the researchers, this was an outcome predicted by the social theories applied to the data.

Under an “institutionalist” theory, a husband’s non-employment was seen as a serious violation of the gendered norm of male breadwinning (even in light of cultural changes on this point). Under a “bargaining/exchange” theory, a husband’s employment encouraged women to stay because doing so allowed them to continue to share in his earnings. The study, therefore, suggests that women leave more when men are not employed both because unemployed men aren’t providing an economic incentive for them to stay and because a husband’s unemployment seriously violates social norms of what a marriage is supposed to be. As to women and their employment, the study revealed that their employment was a factor for divorce only when combined with a high initial dissatisfaction with the marriage and not because such employment “violates” social norms of women as homemakers.

What does all of this mean for the average married person? In a broad sense it means that unemployment appears to be biased against a husband’s unemployment. It also means that marital dissatisfaction can act as an amplifier to the impact of a man’s loss of employment. In sdhort, if marital dissatisfaction is great, the loss of a job simply becomes another reason to end the relationship.

It seems obvious that prolonged unemployment also creates heightened negative emotions in a relationship, which in turn can serve to increase tensions between the parties. There is also undoubtedly stress and fear over the quickly reducing financial resources and possible major life changes, such as selling a house or filing for bankruptcy, that follow from prolonged unemployment.

In the end, however, even the article’s author admitted that he and his wife were unhappy even before he lost his job. He conceded that his unemployment was simply kindling which ignited feelings that had been been kept dormant by better financial times. In this regard the study seems to corroborate the fact that we all seem to know on some level when a relationship is just not working. Whether we admit that to ourselves, and our partner, sooner rather than later seems to be where the discrepancy lies.


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