You might be aware that financial arguments are a leading cause of divorce in the U.S. It therefore makes sense that when one spouse is unemployed, there may be marital problems.
As it turns out, however, it is not just the financial toll of an unemployed spouse that can predict divorce. Unemployment itself plays a role in the divorce rate, even if the couple is relatively well off financially. But this is only true in regards to the husband.
The reasons behind this are somewhat complex, but the picture the data paints is relatively clear.
Traditional Gender Roles
The findings come from a recently published study in the American Sociological Review. Harvard sociologist Alexandra Killewald concluded that while women's roles in marriage have evolved, there is a lingering societal view that husbands must be providers and breadwinners. Men who are seen as failing in this regard are more likely to divorce.
Interestingly, before 1975, if the wife did 50 percent of the housework or less, she was more likely to get divorced than if she did at least 75 percent of the housework. Since then, the divorce rate has remained fairly equal no matter how much housework the wife is responsible for.
In the days of mainly single-income households, before 1975, the divorce rate was fairly low regardless of the employment status of the husband. The divorce rate was at 1 percent per year for employed men and 1.1 percent per year for unemployed men. As women have taken an increasingly large part in the labor force, the likelihood of a divorce has risen substantially for unemployed men.
Currently, 3.3 percent of couples with an unemployed husband divorce, while only 2.5 percent of those where the husband does have a job divorce every year. This is a statistically significant increase.
The husband's employment (or lack thereof) as a predictor of divorce is often looked at as a "breadwinner effect." This means that either the husband, wife, or perhaps both, allow their relationship to be affected strongly by the fact that a husband does not work. At the same time, the "housewife effect" has been all but erased for women, allowing them to move away from their traditional gender role without an associated rise in divorce rates.