The Job Factor That Makes Israeli Couples More Likely to Divorce

And no, it's not because the woman out-earns her husband or is better-educated

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File photo: A wedding in northern Israel, July 29, 2017
File photo: A wedding in northern Israel, July 29, 2017Credit: Gil Eliahu
Tali Heruti-Sover.
Tali Heruti-Sover

Despite the advances in gender equality in Israel and the Western world, a husband with unstable employment is still a factor that significantly raises a couple’s chances of divorce, found two Israeli researchers.

Anat Herbst-Debby of Bar-Ilan University and Amit Kaplan of the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Jaffa examined the relationship between work and marriage. While their research broke down some myths, it found that some traditional gender roles remain entrenched.

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The scholars followed some 15,000 heterosexual couples from 1995 to 2008, examining National Insurance Institute records, population registries and income tax data.

They found that in Israel, as in much of the West, divorce rates were higher among lower-income couples. Previously in Israel, divorce was considered a privilege that only the upper classes could take advantage of, due to the expenses involved.

Herbst-Debby notes that once, divorce was indeed more common among higher earners. Now, however, couples in the bottom three deciles were twice as likely to divorce over the period studied as those in the top three deciles: 14.7% versus 6.5%. Those in the middle three deciles had a divorce rate of 13.6%.

In couples where both spouses had a college degree, only 6% divorced over the years studied. The figure was 11% for couples where neither had a degree, and 10% for couples where one spouse had a degree.

The lower divorce rate among college-educated partners is a trend that has been observed internationally, notes Kaplan. The reasons that people of lesser means are more likely to divorce are varied, but they may include factors such as fewer resources to invest in the marriage, such as money for marriage counseling or for dates. Relationships tend to break down without an ongoing investment of effort, notes Kaplan.

While women are more likely to suffer negative economic effects from divorce, they still initiate 60% to 70% of all divorces, notes Kaplan, presumably because the emotional cost of remaining married is steeper than the economic cost of divorcing, but also because people may not be aware of the full cost of divorce.

The researchers note that Israel’s divorce rate is one in 10 couples. The highest rate is among couples from the former Soviet Union, while the lowest is among Arab couples, where gender roles are still more traditional, states Kaplan.

Kaplan also examined how job stability affects divorce.

While Israeli couples are no more likely to divorce if a woman is better-educated or earns more than her husband, a woman who has stable employment while her husband struggles to find a place in the workforce is more likely to divorce, found Kaplan.

She defined stable employment as continuous work over the preceding 12 months. Of the couples she examined, in 55% both spouses had stable employment, in 29% only the man had stable employment and in 10% only the woman had steady work. In 7% of couples, both partners struggled to maintain jobs.

For couples where both couples had stable jobs, the divorce rate was 8%. But for those where only the woman had stable employment, 15% divorced. In comparison, the figure was 10% for couples where only the man had steady employment, and 12.5% where neither partner had stable employment.

“When the man can’t find himself a place in the workforce and doesn’t fill his so-called traditional role, this violates the norm and becomes a problem,” says Herbst-Debby. In comparison, the woman’s job is often considered a “second income” and thus a woman with unstable income has less impact on the relationship.

“Despite the changes in the labor market, including the entrance of women, an increase in education levels, higher salaries, and the concept of equal parenting, the perception of men as the primary breadwinner is still very strong, among both women and men. It’s almost unacceptable that this norm be damaged,” said Kaplan.

The researchers noted that this kind of correlation can be found in the United States and Germany as well. In Norway, however, a man with unstable employment was not more likely to divorce, so long as household duties were divided in an equal manner.

The researchers also found that a woman’s work seniority had no effect on divorce rates.

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