Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Women, Work and Divorce

Jul 26, 1996

The latest ABS catalogue on marriage and divorce says that 4 out of 10 marriages will eventually end in divorce. Over the years the divorce rate has continued to rise. A number of factors are at play here: the decline of religion; the rise of excessive individualism; the impact of feminism; the growth of the welfare state; changes in sexual morality; taxation structures which penalise marriage while rewarding alternative living arrangements; easy divorce legislation, etc.

Another factor that needs to be examined is the rise in the participation rate of women in the paid workforce. This variable, like the others mentioned, cannot be shown to have a clear cause and effect correlation with the rise in divorce. As sociologists like to argue, human beings are complex beings, and one to one correlations between anything are hard to prove. But some connection between these variables and the rising divorce rates can plausibly be made. If common trends can be pinpointed, we then have some kind of handle to deal with the problem at hand.

Is there a correlation between females in the workplace and rising divorce rates? A number of international studies have shown that there is a real connection between the two: married women in the paid workforce are much more likely to see their marriage end in divorce than those who work at home. Sweden is an example. It has one of the highest rates of female labour force participation in the world. It also has one of the highest divorce rates in the world.

What about Australia? The graphs for rises in divorce and female work rates show a close correspondence. In the 50s around 25 per cent of all women were in the paid workforce. By the 1980s, this rose to around 45 per cent. Now about 55-60 per cent of all women are in the paid work force. (Many of these are part-time positions however.) One big difference has been the number of married women in the paid workforce. Twenty years ago there were twice as many unmarried females in the workforce as married females. Today there are slightly more married females than unmarried. Again, most of these are in part-time work.

Concerning divorce rates, in the 1950s there were around 5 to 10,000 divorces in a year. This figure shot up to over 63,000 in 1976 after the Family Law Act was introduced. (A sharp rise in divorces did begin in the early 70s, before the FLA.) Since then they have hovered around the 40 to 45,000 mark. Last year there were 48,000 divorces.

Again, sociologist are loathe to make cause and effect relationships, partly because of numerous variables in the equation, and partly because of the chicken and egg question. Did a rise in female labour participation rates help fuel the rise in divorce? Perhaps. But even a commentator like Alan Tapper is not ready to make this connection: “There is no immediately obvious reason why increased [female] workforce participation should have weakened marriages. . . . In general the available evidence is both scanty and poor in quality, the conclusions reached are obviously very conjectural, and it is easy to marshal evidence which runs counter to those hypotheses.” (The Family in the Welfare State, pp. 173, 174) Or again, “Family breakdown does not appear to have strong economic causes.” (p. 176)

More study on this area needs to be carried out, especially in Australia. American research can be imported, but home grown evidence is clearly needed. With the Australian Institute of Family Studies in the clutches of feminist ideology, we await impartial and objective research on the subject.

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2 Responses to Women, Work and Divorce

  • What point are you trying to make? That women should not be allowed to work?
    Christopher Svanefalk

  • Thanks Christopher

    I have simply presented the data here. What women – and governments – decide to do with this data, especially in the light of the wellbeing of marriage and family, is up to them.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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