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Unemployed men more likely to divorce, but wives' employment has no effect

A woman's employment status has no bearing on whether or not her husband will initiate a divorce, but interesting things happen when a man is out of work, according to a new study.

Liana Sayer of Ohio State University looked at data on more than 3, 600 couples from the U.S. National Survey of Families and Households to see how employment status influences men's and women's decisions to end a marriage.

A wife's employment has no effect on the likelihood that her husband will choose to leave the marriage, according to the study, soon to be published in the American Journal of Sociology.

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But when a man is unemployed, not only is his wife more likely to want a divorce, it's also more likely that the man himself will choose to end the marriage. That even counts for men who are in relatively happy marriages.

Why would a man who's satisfied with his marriage but out of work want to head to divorce court? Researchers write that the finding suggests that a marriage in which the man doesn't work "does not look like what [men]think a marriage is supposed to." In other words, while it's acceptable for women to choose whether or not to work, men are still expected to be the bread winners.

"These effects probably emanate from the greater change in women's than men's roles," the researchers write. "Women's employment has increased and is accepted, men's nonemployment is unacceptable to many, and there is a cultural ambivalence and lack of institutional support for men taking on 'feminized' roles such as household work and emotional support."

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More

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