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Working for a divorce

An increased risk of divorce encourages women to work longer hours outside the home according to new research from LSE.

According to the research by Dr Berkay Özcan, published in the latest issue of European Economic Review, for every one per cent increase in the risk of marital breakdown, women work an extra 12 minutes per week.

Dr Özcan and his co-researchers used the legalisation of divorce in Ireland in 1996 to determine how the subsequent marriage breakdown rates affected women’s participation in the workforce.

swallowsDr Özcan said: “We see that women who are at a higher risk of divorce significantly increase how much they work. And it isn’t that women working outside the home are more likely to get divorced. Rather, faced with a rising probability of divorce, women work more, whether they ultimately separate or not. They are working as a form of insurance in case of divorce or in anticipation of it.”

In Ireland, following the legalisation of divorce, non-religious married women increased how much they worked by around 18 per cent, compared to religious married women(1). Religious women were used as a control group by the researchers because they were not affected by the new divorce law –  their rate of separation remained constant and their divorce rate is marginal.

There was no strong evidence that men increased their work hours with the increased risk of divorce.

The researchers found that women’s increased work outside the home was not compensated by either a decrease in domestic time spent on childcare or an increase in childrearing by fathers.

Dr Özcan said: “Our results suggest that women’s changing work patterns outside of the home were not accompanied by a decrease in specialisation of tasks within the home. Women who have secured their outside options, in case of divorce, may have done so, at least in the short run, at the expense of their leisure time and potentially their well-being.”

The paper’s co-authors are Drs Olivier Bargain, Libertad González, and Claire Keane

Notes to Editors

1. Following the legalization of divorce in Ireland, non-religious women were 34 per cent more likely to divorce. Religious women were seven per cent more likely to divorce.

'Female labor supply and divorce: new evidence from Ireland', European Economic Review [subscription needed]

Posted: 13 November 2012