IPR Policy Brief - Labour and love: wives' employment and divorce risk in its socio-political context

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Dual-earning is now common in Western couple households, despite the fact that a wife’s employment was historically associated with greater marital instability. With support from the Leverhulme Trust, recent research led by Professor Lynn Prince Cooke, with an international team of researchers, sought to examine whether a country’s level of policy support for a wife’s employment affects its associated divorce risk.

The researchers argue that more extensive policy supports can ease competing time demands and financial pressures on families which, in turn, may ease the link between a wife’s employment and divorce risk. Using harmonized national data, the researchers found that only in the United States, 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 and the United Kingdom, this is no longer the case.

What is more, in Finland, Norway and Sweden, countries with the most generous welfare state and policy supports, wives in paid work have a significantly lower risk of divorce, as compared with wives who remain outside the labour force. The findings highlight the importance of policy in addressing gender equality in employment, as well as related family risks, with more extensive supports making dual-earning the most stable family form in post-industrial societies.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUniversity of Bath
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015


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