Why does unemployment lead to divorce? Male-breadwinner norms and divorce risk in 30 countries

Publication type

Research Paper


Pilar Goñalons-Pons and Markus Gangl

Publication date

Series Number



It is well known that unemployment and financial strain put pressure on relationships and increase the risk of divorce or separation. This applies to men’s unemployment in particular, and earlier research has suggested that gender norms about employment in marriage might be relevant to explain why his job loss spurs more marital conflict than hers. While theoretically intuitive, most of the available empirical evidence is indirect. With the present paper, we conduct a direct test of the proposition that gender norms generate a gendered association between unemployment and divorce. Using harmonized household panel data for 30 countries for the years 2004 to 2014 and country-level measures for the prevalence of male-breadwinner norms, we show that husbands’ unemployment increases the risk of divorce more in countries with greater prevalence of male-breadwinner norms and in situations in which the male-breadwinner identity is most salient, namely among married couples with children.


Labour Market, Unemployment, Family Formation And Dissolution, Sociology and Sociology Of Households