Gendered Time Allocation and Divorce: A Longitudinal Analysis of German and American Couples

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Daniela Bellani, Gosta Esping-Andersen

In: Family Relations 69 (2020), 1, 207-226


Objective To examine the association between divorce and partners' allocation of paid and unpaid work, and change over a few key decades in both West Germany and the United States. Background Past research has indicated that partner similarity in time spent on both paid and unpaid work is associated with a higher risk of marital dissolution. We explore whether the association between paid work disparities and divorce or between unpaid work disparities and divorce changed across time or differed between two cultures. Method Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics for the United States and the German Socio-Economic Panel for West Germany from the mid-1980s until the end of the 2000s, we conducted event history analyses. Results Over time, the risk of divorce declined among couples with a more similar division of labor. In parallel, the relative stability of marriages adhering to a dissimilar pattern of unpaid work decreased in Western Germany. Conclusion These results contrast with the predictions of a static normative perspective, but they are consistent with the multiple equilibrium theory, which predicts that divorce risks will decline in tandem with the embrace of more gender similarity in couple arrangements. Thus, evidence suggests that as societies evolve toward greater gender similarity in the division of paid and unpaid work, marital stability will likely improve. Implications Preventive intervention approaches promoting new forms of organization in the division of work between partners may be useful in the quest for improved marital relations and well-being.

Keywords: divorce; family relationships; gender roles; social change; work and family issues