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Fall 2010 Table of Contents

The Wages of Love

Dual-career couples stay together longer

| From Explorations | By Bari Walsh

Couples in which the wife can be considered a career woman have a 25 percent lower probability of divorce than other couples. Illustration by Juliette Borda

Want a long and happy marriage? You have to work for it.

In an important series of studies that cast a critical eye on the nostalgically driven, politically loaded idea that working women are bad for marriage, two BU economists have found that dual-career marriages are actually more stable, and less likely to end in divorce, than marriages in which only one partner works.

Looking at a cross-section of U.S. states, Andrew Newman, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of economics, and Claudia Olivetti, a CAS associate professor of economics, have found that in states where women have a very high rate of participation in the labor force, such as Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa, the divorce rate is lower than in states like Kentucky or Arizona, where the female labor force participation is low. Similarly, in states with a high percentage of two-earner households, divorce rates are much lower, even controlling for total household income.

This most real-world of applied research projects started as a conversation between two theorists. Newman says that he and former BU colleague Zvika Neeman, now at Tel Aviv University, were observing that in bargaining theory, “it made a difference whether the participants in the bargain were able to make what we economists call side payments
to one another. We said that one example of that would be a household consisting of two earners—that they’d have many more allocation possibilities than a household with just one earner.”

Predicting fewer divorces in the two-earner households, they approached Olivetti, who studies issues related to women’s employment and wages. She confirmed an under-recognized fact: since the mid-1980s, as women have increased their participation in the labor force, divorce rates have actually fallen. Theories about working women causing divorce—theories that held sway both in the popular mind and in academia, Olivetti says—“fall to pieces” when you look at the data.

Newman and Olivetti subsequently found that “for couples in which the wife can be considered a career woman, the probability of the marriage ending in divorce is 25 percent lower than for other couples,” Olivetti says. And when they looked at couples in which the wife makes at least 50 percent of the household income, those equal-earning marriages are even less likely to end in divorce.

What is driving the correlation? It’s not about total income, Newman and Olivetti stress, since marriages with one high-earning partner were not protected. It’s about the distribution of money—and purchasing power—within the household. The researchers speculate that something called flexible accommodation is at play—which brings the conversation back to bargaining theory.

“The nice thing about money, as crass as it may seem to think that this is how we relate to each other, is that it enables you to purchase a full market basket of whatever goods you like,” says Newman. “And so when things get a little difficult in a marriage, accommodations can be made.” You can hire a babysitter for a weekend away, or relieve your spouse or yourself of lawn-mowing or housecleaning duties. “In a two-earner household,” he says, “you’re going to be able to accommodate more of the vicissitudes of married life.”

Money still can’t buy you love, in other words, but the equal distribution of it may buy a durable marriage.

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On 9 February 2011 at 1:07 PM, Suzanne (CAS'70) wrote:

I would have expected some mention of the presence or absence of children in the marriage as part of the statistics. Two parents working within a family while raising children most certainly creates other levels of stress - both emotional and financial to name only two - and would certainly alter the results.

On 15 October 2010 at 9:30 PM, tony wrote:

@moderndayslavery - except you're ignoring the fact that "the bible belt" and the more religious regions actually have *higher* rates of divorce, teen pregnancy, abortion, and other social issues common attributed to "heathens" and the non-religious. Supernatural beliefs are no magical path to marital bliss. Communication, understanding, and compassion are probably (just my opinion here) more accurate indicators.

On 14 October 2010 at 2:46 PM, Anonymous (CFA'03) wrote:

The statistics in this article are very interesting, but they seem more set out to prove a point than to examine divorce trends more thoroughly. When examining the high or low percentage of women in the work force, not all of these women were neccessarily married. And it's also important to take into consideration that people are marrying later than in the last generations, and more are choosing not to marry at all. So are the statistics here really representative of the whole culture, or just of a subculture group? Or could one say that an egalitarian, two-income marriage is one advisable path to avoiding divorce, but not the only one? Somehow drawing conclusions in this way about trends in marriage success or failure seems like saying that all people who have brown hair will divorce and all with blond hair won't!

On 13 October 2010 at 10:18 PM, moderndayfreedom wrote:

Although I appreciate that the last comment wants to stress that the study is not all-encompassing, I would like to contribute that the logic is flawed for one very important reason: having God as a focal point of a marriage is something that must be agreed upon by both entering parties of a marriage. As such, many relationships decide that God will not be their focal point. I would point out that there are many very successful marriages of atheists as an example. Furthermore, many healthy relationships are between one religious person and one not. On the flip side, I would offer my parents' marriage (both very devoted to God) as a counter example of the previous comment. Are they both devout? Yes. Should they stay together? Absolutely not. I believe that this study is only trying to help understand what stresses can affect a marriage. Marriage should be about commitment and growing with that person.

On 13 October 2010 at 12:38 PM, moderndayslavery wrote:

All of these different 'studies' on what makes a marriage longer and none of them mention God. Though it might make sense that both parties having finances may lower ONE stressing aspect of a marriage but it does not determine the overall result of it. This is so much more to marriage than finances. Ask the multi-million dollar celebrities who are divorcing fo rreason OTHER THAN financial distress. What makes marriage work is a UNIFIED SPIRITUAL CONNECTION WITH GOD! Through him EVERY other facet needed for the marriage to work will be available. Man and his 'scientific' 'statistical' studies...... SMH....We ate from the 'tree' and became smart and dumb at the same time....

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