Study: Men Without Stable Jobs Are More Likely to Divorce

Why do 52% of marriages end in divorce? It’s a multi-million dollar question with no easy answer. Every marriage is different; so is every divorce. However, we can still look at statistical trends for a glimpse into the lives of the ones that fall apart.

Men without stable jobs divorce

Last year, Harvard sociologist Alexandra Killewald published the results of her study on factors influencing the risk of divorce. Looking at over 6,300 marriages between over the course of 46 years, one point of data stands out among the rest: a husband’s job stability is one of the single biggest factors impacting a couple’s risk of divorce. 

And it’s not about the money.

The Study

There are many theories on the rising divorce rate of the past several decades. Some claim it’s because more women work full time, which means they’re no longer reliant on their marriages (or husbands) for financial support. Many point to poverty and economic strife, blaming money problems as the primary source of martial breakdowns. 

This study sets the record straight.

Killewald studied the effects of three factors on the risk of divorce: the couple’s division of labour (including the husbands’ and wives’ employment status), the wives’ ability to support themselves in the event of divorce, and the couple’s overall financial resources. Her study looked at a sample of 6,309 married couples in the United States between 1968 and 2013, excluding same-sex couples (since there’s little data on those marriages in the US) and stay-at-home dads (uncommon until recently).

The results are clear: a wife’s employment and her ability to support herself was not a predictor of divorce. Nor was the couple’s total household income. The key factor influencing a couple’s risk of divorce was whether the husband had a stable job or not.

Men who didn’t have jobs, or who had been out of work for a long time, had a statistically higher chance of getting divorced than those with stable careers. Husbands employed full time had a 2.5% chance of divorcing in any given year, but the risk rose to 3.3% for those who lacked full-time employment. 

Interestingly, this fact remains true across all 46 years of data in the study. Gender norms have evolved significantly since the 1970s, with more women staying in full-time careers after they get married. Many women are even the main breadwinners (in Canada, the number has risen to 30%). Regardless, a husband’s employment status is still a huge factor in the stability of a marriage.


What It Means

This study challenges many of the common assumptions people make about divorce. However, it falls in line with what I’ve said all along: marriage breakdown is seldom a financial thing, even when it appears on the surface to be about money.

Men crave intimacy, for most of us it is the most important component of our lives. If you listen to any male pro athlete when he retires he never talks about the money, or the success or missing the working out, he talks about missing the team. For most men, the relationships at work are part of their identities. When men are in and out of work it is almost like children attending a new school every year, we do not know where we fit in. If we do not have a great self-image and a great home life then things fall apart in the marriage."

The data doesn’t tell us why the loss of full-time employment is so hazardous to a marriage. But anyone who’s ever been laid off knows the cost is far greater than the loss of income. 

Losing a job can take an enormous emotional toll on one’s life, and I suspect it hits men the hardest. As a recovering workaholic, I know how our identities can become deeply intertwined with our work. Losing a job can be like losing a part of yourself.

The emotional strife and frustrations of job loss can put a great deal of stress on a marriage, especially one that’s already on the rocks.

Of course, the reverse is also true. When someone is suffering through a troubled relationship, their work performance takes a hit. They find themselves distracted, demotivated, and less productive on the job. 

This becomes a vicious cycle. Trouble at home causes trouble at work, and unstable employment feeds marital instability.

It’s not just married couples who should be paying attention. Employers have an interest in this too! Happy people are better employees. A contented, confident person is 10% more productive than the average employee; unhappy employees are 10% less productive. We can only stop the cycle, and keep it from starting anew, by helping couples find the heart of their issues and work through life’s trials.


What are your views on this study? See the full study here or read a summary from Time.