A new US study suggests that how a couple divides up both paid and unpaid labor in and out of the home is linked with the risk of divorce.
It has been thought previously that it is the couple's financial status which could be linked to divorce rates, including a wife's ability to support herself in the event of a divorce. However, a new study by a professor at Harvard University suggests otherwise.
For her research Alexandra Killewald looked at nationally representative data on more than 6,300 different-sex couples with each spouse aged between 18 and 55.
Data was taken from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), the longest running longitudinal household survey in the world which looks at over 18,000 US individuals and families.
Killewald used the information in this study to look at a possible connection between marital stability and couples' division of labor, their overall financial resources, and wives' economic prospects following divorce, also comparing couples married in 1974 or earlier with couples married in 1975 or later to see if any of these factors changed over time.
The results showed that in both groups, for those married in or before 1974 and those married after 1974, financial factors did not play a role in divorce, and neither the couples' overall resources nor the wives' economic prospects following divorce had an effect on marriage stability.
"The fact that divorce rates rose during the second half of the 20th century at the same time when women were moving into the labor force has prompted some speculation that marital stability has declined because women no longer 'need' to be married for financial security," commented Killewald.
"For some, this implies that women's entry into the work force has come at the expense of stable marriages. My results do not suggest any tradeoff of that kind."
Instead, Killewald found that it was the division of labor which affected marital stability in both groups, although Killewald did find differences between the groups in terms of what division of labor was better for marriage stability.
For those who married in or before 1974, the more housework a woman did, the less likely her marriage was to end in divorce.
But for those who married after 1974, this was not the case.
"For couples married more recently, expectations for the division of housework between spouses appear to have changed, so that men are expected to contribute at least somewhat to household labor," commented Killewald.
When it came to paid labor outside the home, the results showed that for those married after 1974, wives' full-time employment was not associated with the risk of divorce. However, if the husbands were not employed full-time, this was significantly associated with a higher risk of divorce.
"For contemporary couples, wives can combine paid and unpaid labor in various ways without threatening the stability of their marriage," concluded Killewald.
However, Killewald observed that "contemporary husbands face higher risk of divorce when they do not fulfill the stereotypical breadwinner role, by being employed full-time."