University of Bath

Labour and love: wives’ employment and divorce risk in its socio-political context

An IPR Policy Brief to examine whether a country’s level of policy support for a wife’s employment affects its associated divorce risk.

Dual-earning is now common in Western couple households, despite the fact that a wife’s employment was historically associated with greater marital instability. This research examined whether a country’s level of policy support for a wife’s employment affects its associated divorce risk. It argues that more extensive policy supports can ease competing time demands & financial pressures on families which, in turn, may ease the link between a wife’s employment & divorce risk. Using harmonised national data, the researchers found that only in the US, where policy support is minimal, does a wife’s employment still significantly increase the risk of divorce. In Australia, Flanders, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands & the UK, this is no longer the case. What is more, in Finland, Norway & Sweden, countries with the most generous welfare state & policy supports, wives in paid work have a significantly lower risk of divorce, as compared with wives who remain outside the labour force.