Couples are more likely to divorce when the wife is promoted to the top job in her field, according to Swedish researchers. The same does not hold true when men receive top promotions at work.
The study, “All the Single Ladies: Job Promotions and the Durability of Marriage,” by Olle Folke and Johanna Rickne examined 30 years of data from Sweden, covering men’s and women’s careers before and after job promotions in both the public and private sectors. The employees averaged aged 50 and were married for about 20 years. They concluded that marriages were more likely to fail when women took top positions in their fields.
The researchers honed in on three types of jobs—local mayors, national parliamentarians, and CEOs of companies with more than 100 employees. These jobs are high status, involve long work hours, and contain salaries that are in the top 5 percent of income distribution.
They found that if a wife was elected to a political position, couples were 7 percent less likely to stay married. There was no change if the woman ran for office and lost. If a man was elected to a political position, the rate of divorce did not change. And men who were married to women who were promoted to CEO were twice as likely to get divorced within three years of the promotion.
Financial independence was not a factor in the divorces because most of the wives were already financially secure when they landed the promotion.
“A description of male and female job candidates’ household formations sheds some light on the mechanism behind this result,” the researchers wrote. “For most male candidates for top jobs, their promotion aligns with the gender-specialized division of paid and unpaid labour in their households.”
In other words, a woman’s promotion caused problems for couples that prioritized the husband’s career early on their relationship. “Gender traditional” marriages in which women took 80 percent of parental leave and the husbands earned more, did less childcare work, and were older than their wives, suffered the most when the wives were promoted.
In contrast, couples who early on in their relationship focused equally on each other’s careers were not subjected to an increase in divorce rates when the woman got a job promotion.
“Divorce among women in top jobs occurs more often in couples with a larger age gap and a less equal division of leave, and in households in which her promotion shifts the division of earnings (further) away from the norm of male dominance,” the researchers noted.