Study: Working Overtime Is Good For Marriages

Last Updated Jun 15, 2011 4:07 PM EDT

Does a demanding job help or hurt your marriage? Surprisingly, it often helps, according to new research, but it depends on whether the husband or wife is working hard--and if the couple has children.

A study, by professors from Utrecht University in the Netherlands and the University of California, Los Angeles, just published in the The Journal of Family Psychology, assessed the workload and marital satisfaction in 169 newlywed couples every six months for the first four years of their marriages. Here's what the researchers found:

  • Working harder generally leads to greater marital satisfaction. The researchers explain this by citing the "expansion theory," which states that engagement in work can create energy, thus invigorating the relationship.
  • Among couples with children, when men work harder, it takes a toll on the marriage. The researchers say this is likely because more time at the office meant less time meeting family obligations and less time spent together as a couple (and family).
  • Mothers with long working hours have happy marriages. This is perhaps the most surprising finding, and the researchers say it may be due to the fact that when wives work hard, fathers increase the time they spend taking care of the kids, which may make the division of childcare responsibilities more equitable, improving a wife's affection for her husband. It also could ease the pressure on women who are juggling work and family. Studies in the past have shown that when men help with the housework, they have more sex with their wives.
  • When a spouse likes their job, they also tend to be happier in their marriage. In the study, when either spouse was highly satisfied with their work, that partner generally reported higher marital satisfaction as well, regardless of how demanding their jobs were. Past studies have shown that workers highly engaged in their jobs scored high on psychological well-being. However, when a husband reported liking his work, in general, their wife was less satisfied with the marriage, while when a wife liked her job, the husband was a bit more satisfied with the marriage. Why the gender gap? The researchers speculate that "for wives an increase in his satisfaction with work may be perceived as threatening his motivation to devote time and energy to the relationship." However, when the wife was happy with her job, the husbands were happier probably because their wives happiness spilled over into the marriage.
How does your work load affect your marriage?
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Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist who writes for the New York Times, national magazines and websites including Health, Prevention, Ladies Home Journal, iVillage and the Huffington Post. Follow her on twitter.
Photo courtesy of flickr user mooks262
  • Laurie Tarkan

    Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist who writes for The New York Times and many national magazines. She is a contributing editor at Fit Pregnancy magazine and the author of three books, Perfect Hormone Balance for Fertility, Perfect Hormone Balance for Pregnancy and My Mother's Breast: Daughters Ace Their Mothers' Cancer.. You can follow her on Twitter at @LaurieTarkan.