Unemployed Men Have Higher Divorce Rate

While our culture’s views about women working have changed substantially in recent decades, our views about men working appear not to have budged very much. Case in point, a study of more than 3,600 couples published recently in the American Journal of Sociology, which links unemployed men with higher divorce rates.

Despite the fact that more men are choosing to be stay-at-home dads while their wives work, this particular study surprised me in saying it’s still not culturally acceptable for men to be the primary care givers. Men who are not working face a greater likelihood that their wife would leave them. In addition, the men themselves were more likely to leave the relationship.

Whether a woman worked or not had no bearing on her husband’s likelihood of leaving her. However, a working woman who was very unhappy in her marriage was more likely to begin divorce proceedings than if she was unemployed. Researchers explain that these women have the resources that allow them to leave, but they said the employment itself wasn’t the source of tension.

So, there’s a bit of a dichotomy between working men and women. The reasons aren’t clear, although one possibility was that unemployed men are more likely to suffer from depression. And our cultural expectations of men appear to be still wrapped up on them being providers. (However, American women’s have outpaced men in education and income growth during the last 40 years. Read Who’s Marrying for Money?)

The study, reported in Time Magazine, is consistent with one from Ohio State, which also showed that men who don’t have a job have higher rates of leaving the relationship, and that their partners also have higher rates of leaving the relationship.

I have known some very competent stay-at-home dads with professional wives who are the breadwinners. I know it can work for many families, so I don’t want to come off as against this sort of arrangement. I think the knowledge of this research makes it clear that a couple who chooses to go this route will be going against the cultural grain and should be prepared to discuss the ongoing challenges. In addition, they should both be aware of the risk of depression, possibly from loss of social network or feeling overwhelmed by child-rearing responsibilities. They should also work hard to make the marriage a priority in the family.

One note, I don’t think the research differentiates between the men who were unemployed by choice and those who were unemployed by circumstance. It seems the latter group would have higher rates of depression.

See a summary of the study here.

Do you or your partner have experience being a stay-at-home parent? Do you think the challenges are different for men than for women? Do you think society’s views on men working are outdated or appropriate?

Related Posts:
Can women breadwinners have it all?
Are househusbands the ultimate status symbol?
Women breadwinners are more likely to be cheated on.

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com.

9 responses to “Unemployed Men Have Higher Divorce Rate

  1. Thanks. Food for thought…

  2. Plus there are not a lot of other stay-at-home dads around to turn to for support and fellowship.

  3. I’m disappointed that you misread this study. The study says that married men who lose their jobs are more likely to divorce. It doesn’t say stay-at-home dads are more likely to divorce. Not all married men who lose their jobs become at-home dads. Some don’t have kids. Some have kids who are in high school or college and don’t need their care at home every day. Some leave their kids in daycare while they find a job. Some of them are married to stay at home moms!

    No where in this study does it say what you claim it is saying. The study does not mention stay at-home dads AT ALL.

    Please don’t discount the hard work that at-home dads do and the struggles they have to overcome with inaccurate information.

    Also, yes, there are many online groups for at-home dads and many local groups too. There is even an annual convention! Visit http://www.athomedad.org, http://www.daddyshome.org and http://www.athomedadconvention.com.


    • Link to the Time Magazine article for more information and comments from the experts. Let me repeat what I said in the post that I have a lot of respect for men who stay home with their children. The study represented that men who are unemployed by choice or not by choice are more likely to leave their marriage and are more likely to be left in the marriage. They may or may not be parents, as you said, but stay-at-home fathers do fall under the category of unemployed husbands. The experts quoted in the Time article assert that they do have higher divorce rates and that cultural expectations still lean toward married husbands being the breadwinners. Thanks for sharing the links for stay-at-home dads. I advise couples not to be afraid to do things differently than the culture, but to be aware of the stresses they may face. Thanks for your feedback. Best,

  4. No Lori, I’m sorry but the experts do not say stay at home dads have higher divorce rates. Unemployed husbands do. And you are also wrong to say that stay-at-home fathers fall under the category of unemployed husbands. First off, many at-home fathers do in fact work. The US Census only counts unemployed fathers as at-home dads and comes up with a number of 154,000. Using a broader definition of dads who care for their children during the day while mom works, as many demographers and our organization uses, gives you a number near 2 million. The difference is because those at-home dads not counted by the Census are actually employed full- or part-time nights, weekends or at home.

    Secondly, just because SOME stay-at-home dads may fall into the category “unemployed husbands” does not mean that you can assume from the research on unemployed husbands that stay-at-home dads are more likely to divorce. The only way you can do that is to separate them out and analyze that data specifically which the researches did not do. How do you know that the reality is stay-at-home dads were the group of unemployed husbands who WERE NOT more likely to divorce? You don’t.

    I would never discount the difficulty at-home dads have in their role, especially ones forced into it by a job loss. There is no doubt that you are correct in stating that having a husband become an at-home dad is a challenge with many pitfalls to consider and be ready to tackle. However, research like this that is so poorly misunderstood does not help these men. They need support from their wives, their families, society and other at-home dads so that they can confidently succeed in raising awesome kids.

    Please really read the research, understand more about at-home dads and what we do and inform your readers that a marriage can be challenging when a husband decides to stay home with the kids but that it does NOT mean you will be more likely to divorce.

  5. Thanks for the clarification. You clearly have some insights in this area. I’m heartened to hear that the challenges might not be so daunting for stay-at-home dads. Time Magazine explained the study in a completely different manner than your explanation. If you have access to the original study I’d be interested in reading it. Best,

  6. Sorry Lori, I thought I posted this already. A summary of the study is here: http://www.jstor.org/doi/story/10.2307/PR.2011.06.22.4754815. The title is very clear: “Husband’s employment threatens marriage, but wife’s does not study finds.” As I mentioned earlier, no where does this suggest these husbands are fathers. Also most at-home dads are employed, at least part-time and therefore not unemployed and therefore not among those at a higher risk for divorce.

    Thanks for having an open mind and listening to the issue. Time has done the same and since changed the title of their article to “Unemployed husbands are more likely to divorce.” I hope you’ll consider changing the title of your blog or writing a new one setting the facts straight.

  7. I have to agree with Al, this is not about “unemployment” not “stay-at-home” status. I’m living this question right now.

    I’ve been the at home Dad for my five children, and simultaneously the major breadwinner by working from home self-employed. My wife works full time out of the home and the pending divorce has nothing to do with employment.
    More than two-thirds of all divorces are filed by women.

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