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New Study Addresses Employment, Gender, and Divorce

New Study Addresses Employment, Gender, and Divorce

By: M. Scott Gordon

What is the relationship among salary, gender, and divorce in the Chicago area? A recent article in the American Sociological Review addresses exactly this question while also paying attention to a number of other related issues. For instance, is there a clear connection between marital stability and economic gains in the marriage? And if there is a link between stable marriages and salaries, does the role of gender also come into play? Let us say that we do recognize a nexus among stable marriages, salary, and gender (and, conversely, among salary, gender, and unstable marriages that end in divorce). Then, finally, have the dynamics remained steady over time, or have recent trends in workplace practices and gender also shifted the way we look at divorce?

These are all significant questions, and in responding to them, the article ultimately suggests that homes in which men in heterosexual marriages earn less and/or do not have full-time jobs tend to be “associated with a higher risk of divorce.”

Theoretical Ideas Behind Divorce

As the article clarifies, we need to accept that “divorce occurs when at least one partner believes she will be better off divorced than remaining married,” and as such “the risk of divorce depends on the gains from marriage.” There are several different theories that have been posited to explain reasons for divorce in the United States, including the following:

    • Economic independence perspective: this theory suggests that divorces happen at higher rates when spouses do not have to depend financially upon the marriage. In other words, if two spouses are not relying on the income of the other partner, or if they are not relying on a joint income, then it is easier to leave an otherwise unhappy marriage. Traditionally, the article suggests, “wives are likely to be more economically dependent on their husbands when they have accumulated less work experience.” Generally speaking, researchers tend to be pretty split about this theory (and whether it is accurate).
    • Reducing financial strain perspective: this theory suggests that, when both spouses are working full-time and contribute to the economic well-being of the marriage, there is reduced financial strain, and thus a higher likelihood of staying married. Marriages in which both spouses contribute economically, too, can weather a temporary downturn in which one spouse is earning less or has to take part-time work for a short period.
    • Gendered institution perspective: this idea, according to the article, “predicts that divorce is more likely when spouses’ employment and earnings violate gendered norms of behavior.” What are gendered behavior norms? In short, this perspective refers to the gendered notion that men earn more money than women, and thus in a heterosexual marriage, the male is the economic earner while the female earns less. This model then intimates that marriages are more likely to fail when they violate this alleged norm, which would mean that the wife earns more than the husband.

Conclusions from the Study

Is one of the perspectives presented above more accurate than another when we look at data? According to the article, the data suggests that the “gendered institution perspective” is the most accurate. And while its accuracy has become less so over time (and as traditional gender roles have shifted), it nonetheless still carries weight. What does this mean in practice? In short, heterosexual marriages are more likely to fail when the husband earns less than the wife, particularly when the husband has a job that is less than full time.

Do you have questions about filing for divorce in Chicago? An experienced Chicago divorce lawyer can assist you. Contact M. Scott Gordon & Associates to discuss your case.