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Harvard Study Shows A New Major Factor In Marital Stability

Husbands and wives, if you want to stick together, take note.

With the rise in the divorce rate over the past several decades, we should consider why so many married couples are breaking their vows (after all, family unity and structure are essential for future generations’ success). One may wonder why nearly 50% of marriages end in divorce; perhaps you’re one of those people who has gone through such a situation. Well, it turns out that there is a major factor in divorces that we may have been overlooking.

Money issues can be worked out between couples; it will take work and patience, but they can be sorted out. However, in order to solve it, look again at what it requires: work. It requires self-sacrifice and effort, and to solve money problems it requires getting into a job that provides for your family's fiscal needs.

The problem here is that America’s labor force participation rate, especially for men, has declined. The social attitudes about work no longer mandate that a man work for a living; it is socially acceptable for a grown man to be idle.

Harvard sociology professor Alexandra Killewald looked at the issues of divorce and economic circumstances, and found an interesting correlation. In the study, she started out with some specific questions:

“A core unresolved question is how trends in marital stability relate to changing family and economic circumstances. Have wives’ greater earnings power and work experience increased divorce by reducing the costs of exiting bad marriages? Are strained household finances associated with heightened risk of divorce? Or do spouses’ work and earnings patterns alter marital stability by conveying signals about whether each partner is fulfilling the implicit, symbolic, gendered terms of the marital contract?”

She looked at divorce from three different perspectives: the financial strain perspective, the economic independence (of women) perspective, and the gendered institution perspective. No evidence was found for the former two, but she did find evidence in support of that last one.

“…the strongest evidence for the gendered institution perspective is that, for marriages begun in 1975 or later, divorce is more likely when husbands are not employed full-time. Consistent with my hypotheses, there is no evidence that this association is weaker for later than earlier marriage cohorts. Just as male breadwinning has remained important for marriage formation (Sweeney 2002), the results here demonstrate its enduring importance for marital stability. The results are consistent with claims that bread-winning remains a central component of the marital contract for husbands (Nock 1998).”

Her research also found an interesting fact about men who are non-full-time workers as well (I fall into this category at the moment).

It is possible that husbands’ less than fulltime employment is associated with marital disruption more strongly than wives’, not because of gendered interpretations of lack of full-time employment, but because husbands’ part-time employment or nonemployment is more likely to be involuntary. Involuntary nonemployment may negatively affect marriages more strongly than voluntary nonemployment, by affecting outcomes like partners’ mental health.

I can say from experience that I really wish I was back at full-time work. As someone who has an appreciation for work, it’s been hard to only have part-time available to me, especially when it is not because of any choice I made to only seek out part-time work.

The good news for us is that this situation has not affected our marriage negatively. I may be desiring more work, but the upside is that my wife and I already had a solid foundation which is enabling us to weather the change. Full-time work will be back for me soon enough; I just need to be patient and work as best as I can where I am at now.

But on a larger scale, I can see how lower labor force participation could impact marriages, especially with the still prolific expectation that men are supposed to be the breadwinners. When men are not working, it tends to create problems at home and in society at large.

The solution? Get to work guys, especially y’all in your 20s still living at home! Put down the controllers and phones, and get to doing some kind of work, somewhere. It’s better than being idle, producing nothing. If you’re dating someone, or married, it may even save your relationship.