Effects of wives' employment

Marital unhappiness frequently drives wives into the workplace, say researchers at Penn State University. But wives' employment does not necessarily lead to divorce. In fact, says Robert Schoen, professor of family sociology and demography, the opposite usually occurs: "Full-time employment decreases the risk of subsequent marital disruption."

A study by Professor Schoen and two other Penn State sociologists used data from the National Survey of Families and Households to study the impact of employment on marital happiness at two different points in a marriage. Their findings were recently presented at the Population Association of America conference in Atlanta.

For couples who reported unhappiness at the first point, the likelihood that the wife would be in the full-time labor force was significantly greater than it was for couples reporting happiness at that time.

The quality of a marriage does predict wives' labor-force participation subsequent to their unhappiness, says Dr. Schoen, but "we see no consequence of wives' full-time employment [on] marital happiness."

Unhappy couples are more likely to separate, say the researchers, but if they stay together, the wife's employment stabilizes the relationship.

"We do not know the motives that lead unhappy wives to enter or remain in full-time employment, but it appears that they are not simply preparing for a marital dissolution," he says.

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