Fragile Male Egos
It’s sad, but I’m not really surprised that the wealthier a woman gets, the more likelihood that her marriage will end in divorce — particularly if her wages catch up and surpass that of her husband.
The Sunday Times, August 20, 2006
Wealthy women set the pace in divorce stakes
ThE richer a woman becomes, the more likely she is to divorce her husband, new research has found.
The findings suggest a marriage becomes destabilised not simply because a woman’s income has risen, but because her success starts to outstrip that of her husband.
According to the researchers, this may be because the balance of power shifts, making the woman less likely to accept being lumbered with most of the household chores and increasing the chances of rows.
Another reason may be that a woman’s greater earning power makes her more confident that it will be financially viable to leave her husband and pay a good divorce lawyer.
“Greater financial independence clearly makes the decision to divorce much simpler,” says the study by Randall Kesselring, an economics professor. “It also appears that a female’s economic success may, indeed, cause friction within the family.” Kesselring cites “fragile male egos” reacting negatively to women’s raised status as an additional source of tension.
Kesselring, professor of economics at Arkansas State University in the United States, reached his conclusions after examining the finances of 112,740 women, of whom 16,760 were divorced and 95,980 married.
His findings suggest that women’s growing financial success has been a strong factor in the rising number of divorces. In 2004, the number of divorces granted in the UK rose 0.2% to 167,116, the fourth successive annual increase. He argued that for every £10,000 a wife’s earnings increase relative to the family’s overall income, the chances of marital break-up rise by 1%.
Lawyers confirmed this weekend that greater financial independence for women was leading them to take the initiative in divorce in growing numbers. Louise Spitz, a divorce lawyer at Manches, a London law firm, said: “Financial independence for women has given an impetus to divorce for the simple reason that they don’t have to put up with what they otherwise might have had to.”
Other experts point out that increasing career success cuts the time available for women to carry out domestic tasks.
Anastasia de Waal, head of family and education at the think tank Civitas, said: “Rather than there being an equal division of labour, mothers who work full time, for example, tend to do considerably more childcare and housework than their male partners.”
One 37-year-old divorcee from Brighton, Sussex, who asked not to be named, said boredom with her marriage had led her to develop a career as a therapist. The woman, who has since remarried, said: “Had I stayed at home as a housewife, my first marriage might not have broken down, but I’m much happier and more fulfilled now, and my life is so much more interesting.”
Some high-earning women have found that divorce comes at the cost of making a pay-out to their less wealthy husbands. Kate Winslet, the star of the film Titanic, paid out £500,000 to her husband of three years, film director Jim Threapleton, when they divorced in 2001.
Nicola Horlick, the City fund manager and mother of five, now divorced from her husband Tim, said some successful career women now preferred to avoid marriage altogether.
“They may prefer not to get married in the first place . . . because they don’t want the hassle of divorce,” said Horlick. “They will have a baby with a partner, but they won’t get married . . . if they think they are going to make reasonable sums of money they don’t necessarily want to give it away to a partner.”
There are other reasons why successful women may be more likely to divorce.
Michael Gouriet, a family lawyer at Withers, a London firm, said: “The interpretation of the divorce law is more generous to women than it was 20 or 30 years ago, and therefore they can get out of a marriage with more confidence.” Gouriet added: “Society is very much more throwaway than the post-war generations — we are happy to dispose of things that don’t work rather than making a go of them.”
Lisa McDonald — not her real name — said the fact she was more financially successful than her then husband had helped push the couple towards divorce. McDonald, a 34-year-old Oxbridge-educated management consultant from south London who earns more than £50,000 a year, said: “He was setting up his own business, then his financing fell through and his partner pulled out.”
McDonald added: “The success he talked about endlessly didn’t come off, and we were living off my salary. We were rowing a lot. He resented my success at work and in the end I decided I’d be better off in every way without him.”