You’ve probably heard before that financial issues can lead your marriage closer to divorce.
But a new study challenges that idea, saying instead that it’s not exactly financial factors that predict a marriage’s divorce chances. Rather, it’s the division of labor, specifically how the husband and wife break up the unpaid and paid work responsibilities, that can affect divorce.
"My results suggest that, in general, financial factors do not determine whether couples stay together or separate," study author Alexandra Killewald, a professor of sociology at Harvard University, said in a press release. "Instead, couples' paid and unpaid work matters for the risk of divorce, even after adjusting for how work is related to financial resources."
The study, titled "Money, Work, and Marital Stability: Assessing Change in the Gendered Determinants of Divorce," looked at data that represented about 6,300 different couples, specifically spouses ages 18 to 55 years old. Specifically, the researchers analyzed the couples’ division of labor, financial resources and the wives’ economic prospects.
The researchers also compared couples from today with those from 1974 or earlier and from 1975 to see if there were any changes since then.
Killewald found that financial factors didn’t affect divorce rates or create any marital issues. Rather, the division of labor changed how people felt about their marriage and impacted marital stability, according to the press release.
So here’s how it breaks down. For couples who were married after 1974, marriages were more at risk if the husband didn’t have full-time employment. When women have more advanced roles in their careers, though, marriage stability isn’t harmed.
"For contemporary couples, wives can combine paid and unpaid labor in various ways without threatening the stability of their marriage," Killewald said. "While contemporary wives need not embrace the traditional female homemaker role to stay married, contemporary husbands face higher risk of divorce when they do not fulfill the stereotypical breadwinner role by being employed full-time.”
The study, according to Killewald, also dispelled the idea that divorce rates have increased because women have found more success in the workplace. In fact, she said it seems likely that men affect marital stability more, especially when they’re unemployed.
"Often when scholars or the media talk about work-family policies or work-family balance, they focus mostly on the experiences of women," Killewald said. "Although much of the responsibility for negotiating that balance falls to women, my results suggest one way that expectations about gender and family roles and responsibilities affect men's lives, too: men who aren't able to sustain full-time work face heightened risk of divorce."
Right now, it still looks like husbands and wives are splitting responsibilities at home. Of course, wives tend to take care of the bulk of the housework. A recent report from the Pew Research Center found that 54 percent of mothers do more with scheduling children’s activities compared to the 6 percent of fathers who do more. About 39 percent of couples split this task equally.
Meanwhile, 47 percent of mothers take care of their sick kids more, with only 6 percent of fathers doing more than the mothers. Similarly to the aforementioned stat, close to 47 percent split the work equally.
Men are closest to women about disciplining children. Pew found that 20 percent of mothers do more disciplining, whereas 17 percent of dads do more.
On the whole, it looks like mothers do more of the work.
This comes even though husbands and wives both work full-time jobs more than ever before.
But research shows that couples should work to split the results a little more evenly. Researchers Wendy Klein, Carolina Izquierdo and Thomas N. Bradbury conducted research in 2013 that found couples who don’t split the household chores fairly end up resenting each other.
The research found that, in general, women spend more of their time cooking, cleaning and completing household chores. They also wrestle more with taking care of their children while also completing housework.
Over time, the gap between who’s doing the chores can create frustration for many couples.
“Housework appears to be far more than the mere completion of tasks needed to keep the family running smoothly,” the researchers wrote for The Atlantic. “It also colors individuals' daily experiences and appears to affect how couples characterize their partnership.”
But couples will see their marriages improve when they share the work load.
“Spouses who appeared to have a clear and respectful understanding of one another's roles and tasks, in contrast, did not spend as much time negotiating responsibilities; their daily lives seemed to flow more smoothly,” according to the researchers.
All of this boils down to how household chores affect the emotions of the family, the researchers wrote. Husbands and wives will come home from work stressed out about their job, and will then start conflict when they see that they have more household chores to complete.
But when couples outline a clear division of labor, they will be the better for it.
“Among the couples we studied, mutually shared understandings of responsibilities minimized the need for spouses to evaluate and manage one another's task-related behaviors,” according to the researchers. “These understandings enabled partners to fulfill their household duties with the knowledge that established boundaries would not be crossed. Demands were few, disengagement in the face of demands was unnecessary, and partners were more likely to feel respected for the contributions they made. Conflict was more prevalent when couples had not worked out a clear division of labor in the home and had to renegotiate responsibilities from one day to the next.”