Do Divorce Rates Increase When Women Are the Primary Earners?

Do Divorce Rates Increase When Women Are the Primary Earners?

By: M. Scott Gordon

Is it possible that divorce rates in Chicago increase when women are the primary earners in the marriage? While the question might strike you as irrational or even sexist, according to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, “women’s high status careers affect marital stability.” The reason for this certainly is not innate, but rather is socialized. However, that does not change the fact that women who have more prestigious, or higher-paying careers, than their partners in heterosexual relationships tend to be more likely to get divorced. This conclusion comes from a study that was published recently in the journal Organization Science.

What else do you need to know about gendered motivations for divorce and the connection to a spouse’s job prestige or earnings?

The So-Called “Oscar Curse”

The article describes the phenomenon we mentioned above as the “Oscar Curse,” meaning that women who are awarded “Best Actress” at the Academy Awards, or who are nominated for the prestigious Oscar, “are more likely to file for divorce than are their counterparts of Best Actor winners.” To be sure, researchers have noted a pattern when it comes to women in high-paying jobs and the rate of divorce.

What is the reason for this? As the article suggests, the answer is one that many people in 2017 may be quick to dismiss. Given that “women now hold at least 50 percent of management and professional positions” in the country and that women outnumber men in “roles such as financial managers, accountants, and medical and health services managers,” many people assume that women have indeed become “equal.” Those employment statistics come from data reported by the U.S. Department of Labor. However, the mere fact that women in such positions may be more likely to get divorced suggests that unequal gender roles we have been socialized to accept as “normal” remain pervasive.

Socialized Expectations About Women in Heterosexual Marriages

The article points out that, in addition to obtaining more prestigious positions in workplaces, women have also started to become the higher (or even primary) earners in some American households. In 1987, women were the primary earners in only 18 percent of marriages, but as of 2014, that number had risen to nearly 30 percent. Yet, as the study suggests, “societal norms suggest that in heterosexual marriages, husbands ‘should’ hold higher job status relative to their wives.” In situations where “this norm is violated, and wives hold the higher status job, negative consequences can follow.”

What are those negative consequences? The study suggests that women can become the focus of their husband’s aggression at home, and that this can lead to divorce. But is this really true? The short answer is simply maybe, and the researchers acknowledge that there is more work to be done. However, in studying responses from hundreds of women, the researchers ultimately determined that “wives’ initial higher job status and feelings of status spillover predicted marital instability.” While marital instability is not always a precursor for divorce, the results do suggest that women in jobs of higher status may be more likely to end up divorced.

Seek Advice from a Chicago Divorce Lawyer

If you have questions about filing for divorce in Chicago, or the Chicago tri-state area, a Chicago divorce attorney can discuss your case with you. Contact Gordon & Perlut, LLC to learn more about how we can assist you.