Media Briefings

RISK OF DIVORCE ENCOURAGES WOMEN TO WORK LONGER HOURS

  • Published Date: April 2014

Women work longer hours when they have a high chance of divorce. What’s more, women who respond most to the risk of divorce by working harder are those who stand to gain the most from doing so. These are among the findings of research by Kerry Papps, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2014 annual conference.

 

The research analyses data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which focuses on a sample of Americans who were teenagers in 1979 and have been tracked every one or two years since. Among the findings:

 

·        Work hours among married women in the United States and the UK have fallen since 1990, despite unprecedented wage gains for married women over this period.

 

·        Women work longer hours when they have a high chance of divorce.

 

·        A 10% increase in the probability of divorce leads to a 17-hour increase in annual work time among mechanics (who have the strongest link between wage rates and how many hours the person worked in the previous year).

 

·        A 10% increase in the probability of divorce does not lead to an increase in work hours among farm labourers (who have the weakest link).

 

·        A woman’s degree of ‘future-orientedness’ increases her responsiveness to the likelihood of divorce, but only among those women who married after the age of 22.

 

The author comments:

 

‘These findings point to an unexpected negative consequence of a falling divorce rate, which may hamper efforts to raise labour force participation among married women.

 

‘If current trends persist, ever-larger wage gains may be needed to encourage more married women to enter the workforce.’

 

More…

 

In work presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2007 annual conference, Kerry Papps reported a positive relationship between the time married women spend in paid work and how likely they are to experience divorce within the following year. This new study extends that work and finds that the women who respond most to the risk of divorce are those who stand to gain the most from doing so.

 

After four decades of steady growth, work hours among married American women have fallen since 1990, despite unprecedented wage gains for married women over this period. This pattern has also been observed in the UK and it has puzzled economists. A possible explanation may lie in trends in the divorce rate, which peaked in the early 1980s in the United States, after two decades of increases.

 

Central to the study is the hypothesis that women care about their future income levels. In that case, if they fear their marriage breaking down within a few years, they might choose to increase the hours they spend on paid work in the present. This may be to spend less time in a dysfunctional home environment and to meet new people. But another reason is to acquire work experience and boost future potential income to ensure that they will be financially comfortable in the event of divorce.

 

If the latter argument holds, those women who stand to gain the most from working longer hours should be the most responsive to changes in the likelihood of marriage breakdown. In particular, women who work in careers that penalise career breaks or part-time work are likely to make large adjustments to their work hours when the risk of divorce changes. Women who care a lot about the future should also be highly responsive to changes in the likelihood of divorce.

 

The study analyses data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which focuses on a representative sample of Americans who were teenagers in 1979 and has asked a wide range of questions every one or two years since.

 

For each married woman in the sample, Papps calculated her probability of exiting marriage in any year. He then examined how work hours are related to this probability, controlling for other factors that are likely to influence women’s work decisions, such as their wage, age and number of children.

 

The study uses statistical techniques to rule out the possibility that causality actually runs in the opposite direction – that is, that long work hours by women actually contribute to divorce.

 

Overall, women are found to work longer hours when they have a high chance of divorce. But as predicted by theory, the strength of this relationship varies according to the occupation a woman had immediately prior to marrying.

 

A 10% increase in the probability of divorce leads to a 17-hour increase in annual work time among mechanics (who have the strongest link between wage rates and how many hours the person worked in the previous year), but no increase in work hours among farm labourers (who have the weakest link).

 

A woman’s degree of ‘future-orientedness’ is also found to increase her responsiveness to the likelihood of divorce, but only among those women who married after the age of 22. Similar results were found when a person’s reported level of happiness with her marriage was used as the measure of divorce risk.

 

These findings point to an unexpected negative consequence of a falling divorce rate, which may hamper efforts to raise labour force participation among married women. If current trends persist, ever-larger wage gains may be needed to induce more married women to enter the workforce.

 

ENDS

 

 

Notes for editors:

‘Female labor supply and marital instability’ by Kerry Papps

 

For further information, contact:

Kerry Papps: k.l.papps@bath.ac.uk+44-797-579 3909

Romesh Vaitilingam: romesh@vaitilingam.com, +44 7768 661095