Getting Laid Off? Now Your Marriage is at Risk, Too.

Last Updated Jul 6, 2011 9:38 AM EDT

As if losing your job isn't bad enough, it turns out that getting laid off turns out to be a strong predictor of whether a couple will divorce-but only when it's the guy who loses his job. In couples where the husband loses his job, divorce becomes more likely. However, when the woman loses her job, the couple's risk of divorce doesn't change.

Those are some of the findings of a forthcoming study led by Liana C. Sayer, a professor at Ohio State University, who used the U.S. National Survey of Families and Households to analyze the marital and employment fortunes of more than 3,600 couples from 1987 to 2002. The U.S. National Survey of Families and Households is especially useful for this sort of research because it is one of the few large studies in which both members of a couple answer the same questions. In most large studies, one person speaks for the entire household.

The other findings:

  • A man's unemployment makes both partners more likely to want a divorce. When a man is unemployed, the woman is more likely to want a divorce. But the man is also more likely to initiate a divorce himself, even if he'd previously said he was happy in his marriage.
  • An employed woman is more likely to ask for a divorce than an unemployed one, but only if she says she's highly dissatisfied with her marriage.
The "Breadwinner" Stereotype
The researchers say that despite all the changes in the last few decades, most of us still cling to the idea that a man is supposed to be a breadwinner. Women's roles may have changed dramatically, but men's have not. Writes Sayer:
Women's employment has increased and is accepted, men's nonemployment is unacceptable to many, and there is a cultural ambivalence and lack of institutional support for men taking on 'feminized' roles such as household work and emotional support.
In other words, society gives stay-at-home dads little credit. No matter how much housework a man does, holding down a job is more culturally acceptable.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Sayer says she doesn't expect this to change anytime soon. Sayer points out that American society at large continues to devalue "care work," making it less likely than men will take on more of it. Says Sayer:

Men are stigmatized if they engage in housework and child care activities, whether by their parents, employers, or society at large. There's some evidence showing that men suffer negative outcomes if they choose to prioritize their family, or invest as much time [in their family as they do] in work. There are few indications that the stigma against that "home-maker" role will change in the U.S. any time soon.
Is it that much harder for men to be unemployed than it is for women? And is it that much rougher on a marriage?

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Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant. Follow her on twitter at www.twitter.com/weisul.
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    Kimberly Weisul is the co-founder of One Thing New, the free email newsletter for smart, busy women. She was previously Senior Editor at BusinessWeek, responsible for all coverage of entrepreneurship and for launching BusinessWeek SmallBiz, a bimonthly magazine. She is also a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant.