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What is the true value of housework in a marriage? One study suggests the answer may depend on gender.

A common misconception is that the financial status of a husband can reliably predict divorce. If it is too low, the theory goes, a couple is more likely to divorce, presumably because the husband is not living up to the expectation of being a breadwinner. As is often the case, however, this stereotype paints an incomplete picture.

According to one recently published study, the employment status of the husband affected the chance of divorce for couples who married between 1975 and 2011. However, the amount of housework performed by the wife was the main factor influencing the chance of divorce for couples who wed before 1975.

The results of this study suggest that more than finances, the amount of unpaid work performed by one spouse can impact a marriage's stability.

Is homemaking still an undervalued profession?

In this study, lead author Alexandra Killewald analyzed data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which is a study of American families performed by scientists of the University of Michigan. The study relied on data from the survey collected between 1968 and 2013 from about 6,500 couples in the United States.

The study used computer models to help estimate the chance of divorce based on the money aspects of marriage, such as the economic independence of the wife, the share of housework performed by each spouse, family income, and the employment status of each spouse. The study also took into account other variables that may influence marriage stability, such as education age, religion, race, children, and ownership of a home. However, she did not take into consideration how much a couple disagreed over financial priorities and spending habits.

If the wife does the housework . . .

The amount of housework performed by the wife was tied to the chance of divorce for couples who are likely to possess more traditional views on labor division between spouses at home and in the workforce. Killewald assumed that couples married before 1974 would have more traditional views. In these couples, wives who did the majority (75 percent) of the housework were more likely to remained married than wives who did half of the housework.

Based on these findings, Killewald concluded that the expectations of couples for their marriages can reflect societal expectations in terms of what a "good wife" should be. On the other hand, in couples who married more recently, wives expected their husbands to help out more and husbands usually met these expectations. However, wives still usually do most of the housework.

Unemployed men more likely to divorce, even if financially secure

Another interesting result from the study was the increased likelihood of divorce by unemployed husbands. If a husband was unemployed, he was more likely to divorce, regardless of the income of the couple. In other words, even if the couple was financially secure, the lack of employment outside the home likely did not meet social expectations that the husband was fulfilling his duty. In other words, working as a homemaker was not considered employment by the couple, when done by the husband.

The value of homemaking still disputed

During divorce proceedings, it can be difficult to quantify the value of doing household chores, staying at home, and taking care of the children. Often, this is a source of contention during property division, and an issue of whether spousal support is appropriate.

For more information property division and other aspects of divorce, contact an experienced family law attorney.

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The Law Firm of Hauer & Snover

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