It’s widely known that unemployment creates strain on marriage even when both partners work. New Ohio State University research on employment and divorce suggests that pressure on husbands to be wage earners remains. The focus of Liana Sayer’s study is on how employment status influences both men's and women's decisions to end a marriage.
She found that a woman's employment status has no effect on the likelihood that her husband will opt to leave the marriage. However, an employed woman is more likely to initiate a divorce than an unemployed woman. Not only are unemployed men more likely to face divorce actions by their wives, they also are more likely than employed men to initiate divorce proceedings.
The study was published in May 2010 in American Journal of Sociology 116:6 (May 2010).
Implications for Lab Managers
This study suggests that married female employees with unemployed husbands may be facing severe strains in their personal life. How should lab managers and human resources professionals at laboratories respond?
The first concern is finding out that there is a problem. Many female employees considering divorce may not wish to share this information with anyone at their workplace particularly managers. Managers shouldn’t ask employees about their marriages but they should be on the alert for changes in women’s workplace behavior. They may be short tempered and have more interpersonal problems with coworkers. If so, they should be counseled only with respect to their workplace behavior. Managers and HR representatives should not ask employees if they are having marital problems.
They can also be sensitive to the stresses some of their female staff members are under as a result of their husband’s unemployment. While they can attempt to reduce workplace stresses, this approach is fraught with danger. Giving stressful but high-profile projects to others could expose the laboratory to discrimination lawsuits. So can giving promotions to others thinking that this will reduce the stress a woman employee is under.
Perhaps the safest course of action (in terms of heading off potential discrimination lawsuits) is to urge the affected female staff member to discuss her situation with a human resources representative. HP staff members should be aware of counseling groups in the area and refer employees to them.
If they do learn of a husband’s unemployment, lab managers and laboratory HR representatives shouldn’t attempt to be marriage counselors but they can supply a sympathetic ear is approached by female employees wanting to discuss their marital situation. However, it helps to be aware of the employment status of woman staff members’ spouses. They can discuss lab policies on employment of spouses. Perhaps an unemployed spouse could be hired at least on a part-time or short-term contract basis.