What is the Impact to a Marriage when the Wife Works Outside the Home?

What is the Impact to a Marriage when the Wife Works Outside the Home?

Perhaps you saw the article “When Wives Earn More:  Important advice about the pitfalls and pluses of this growing trend” in your local newspaper’s Sunday section of USA Weekend.  The article acknowledges the reality that this difficult economic situation has forced more women into the work place.  We acknowledge that as well.

What was of concern to us was the article’s almost cavalier attitude toward marriage and the impact of a working mother and wife upon the family unit.  At one point, the author stated that there is no harm to children or family with women working outside the home. “There is zero evidence to support this,” states Sharon Meers author of the book “Getting to 50/50:  How Working Couples Can Have it All By Sharing It all.”

Ms. Meers is wrong.  There is evidence and we thought we would compile a short  list for you.  This is not meant as an indictment of women who are working, but at the same time we believe you need to know what the empirical data has to say.

Here’s a list of related articles as well:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/18/AR2010011803895.html

http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/CollegeAndFamily/LoveAndMoney/SecretLivesOfBreadwinnerWives.aspx

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/debateshow/3381180.cms (International perspective)

http://familyinequality.wordpress.com/2010/01/19/more-wives-make-more/


Studies on the Impact of Working Women on Marriage

Divorce is significantly more likely to occur within ten years of marriage when a couple – during the first five years of marriage – reverses traditional sex roles with the husband working less than the wife and the wife working more than the husband. The more hours the husband works, and the less hours the wife works, the less likely they were to divorce.  This held true even when taking into account when a husband earned less than other men and when a husband worked overtime. Anne-Rigt Poortman, “How Work Affects Divorce: The Mediating Role of Financial and Time Pressures,” Journal of Family Issues 26 (March 2005): 168-195. 

“[E]ach $1,000 increase in wives’ actual income…or each percentage point increase in wives’ income [as a percentage of total household income] increases the annual odds of divorce by approximately 2.5 to 3 percent.”  Increases in husbands’ income were associated with lower odds of divorce.  Married couples face the highest risk of divorce when the wife contributes 50-60 percent of overall earnings.  Cohabiting couples face the reverse situation—relationships are more stable when incomes are equal or the woman contributes more. Stacy J. Rogers, “Dollars, Dependency, and Divorce:  Four Perspectives on the Role of Wives’ Income,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 66 (2004):  59-74.

A study from the Netherlands consistently found that the more hours the husband works, and the less hours the wife works [paid employment], the less likely they were to divorce.  “[L]ow marital interaction time does not explain the destabilizing influence of a wife’s working hours.” Anne-Rigt Poortman, “How Work Affects Divorce:  The Mediating Role of Financial and Time Pressures, “Journal of Family Issues 26 (2005):  168-195. 

Four factors were associated with the doubling of the divorce rate between 1963 and 1974: A rise in women’s wages, a rise in public assistance (which apply for upward divorce trends throughout several decades), the aging of the postwar baby boom cohorts, and the increased availability of contraceptives (which are more specifically applicable to the decade from 1963 to 1974). Robert T. Michael, “Why Did the U.S. Divorce Rate Double Within a Decade?” Research in Population Economics 6 (1988):  367-399.

Dutch scholars report that “full-time working women have 29% higher odds of divorce than nonworking women.”  On the opposite side, “the more hours the husband works, the less likely a divorce.” Matthus Kalmijn, Paul M. De Graaf, Anne-Rigt Poortman, “Interactions Between Cultural and Economic Determinants of Divorce in The Netherlands,” Journal of Marriage and Family 66 (2004):  75-89.

While female employment was generally associated with a higher risk of relationship dissolution–whether couples were married or cohabiting–women who worked in a family business or who work in their homes were no more likely to experience relationship dissolution than women who did not work. Specifically, female employment outside of a family setting weakened marriage. Karen Price Carver and Jay D. Teachman, “Female Employment and First Union Dissolution in Puerto Rico,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 55 (1993):  686-698.

Compared to traditional marriages with stay-at-home mothers who assumed the expressed role of homemaker, nontraditional marriages emphasizing “role-sharing and egalitarianism” were more likely to end in divorce. Alan Booth, and Paul R. Amato, “Parental Gender Role Nontraditionalism and Offspring Outcomes,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 56, (1994):  865-87.

Women who adhere to feminist ideology (participation in women’s liberation groups, using one’s maiden name, voting for far-left political parties, etc.) have a 52 percent higher risk of divorce than do women with traditional values. Matthus Kalmijn, Paul M. De Graaf, Anne-Rigt Poortman, “Interactions Between Cultural and Economic Determinants of Divorce in The Netherlands,” Journal of Marriage and Family 66 (2004):  75-89.

Wives with more traditional sex-role attitudes were less likely to divorce.
Laura Sanchez and Constance Gager, “Hard Living, Perceived Entitlement to a Great Marriage, and Marital Dissolution,” Journal of Marriage and Family 62(2000): 708-722.

College-age couples who held traditional gender roles were much more likely to make enduring marriages than couples who subscribed to egalitarian precepts. Traditional women were more likely than other women to marry their college sweetheart and to stay married to him during the 15-year period of study. Forty-three percent of traditionalist women married their college boyfriend, and none of these marriages ended in divorce. In contrast, only 26 percent of egalitarian women married their boyfriend and half of these marriages ended in divorce.
Letitia Peplau, Charles Hill and Zick Rubin, “Sex Role Attitudes in Dating and Marriage: A 15-Year Follow-Up of the Boston Couples Study,” Journal of Social Issues 49, 3 (1993): 49.

Compared to their peers who finish college, men with lower levels of education face significantly greater odds of divorce (from 30 to 65 percent higher odds, depending on education level) while women with less education (especially those with “year 12 or less,”) face lower odds of divorce. Belinda Hewitt, Janeen Baxter, and Mark Western, “Marriage Breakdown in Australia:  The Social Correlates of Separation and Divorce,” Journal of Sociology 41 (2005):  163-183

People with higher income and higher education levels are more likely to report reasons for divorce as incompatibility, growing apart, personality problems, and lack of communication.  Individuals with less income and education are more likely to report drinking/drug use or physical and mental abuse as reasons for divorce. Paul R. Amato and Denise Previti, ”People’s Reasons for Divorcing: Gender, Social Class, the Life Course, and Adjustment,” Journal of Family Issues 24 (2003):  602-626.

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