Study: Women in Top Leadership Roles Face Higher Divorce Rates


Aug 19, 2019


Gender-equal heterosexual marriages in progressive countries are mostly an illusion, according to research published in the American Economic Journal: Women in Sweden face higher rates of divorce after being promoted to top jobs in politics and business.

Sweden’s gender equality is almost mythical: women’s rate of higher education surpassed men’s 30 years ago, and their labor participation is also plentiful. The proportion of female CEOs, corporate board members and parliamentarians are amongst the highest in the world. Beyond all this, Swedish women also have married lives and children. This might lead one to think Swedish women have it all — but of course, they don’t.

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The research followed marriages after the female partner received a top promotion in politics, and found the rate of divorces doubled for women who were promoted to mayor or parliamentarian, as compared to the women who failed to win the promotion. High divorce rates followed women who received a promotion to a high position regardless of the sector being public or private.

These divorces did not happen so women could ‘upgrade’ to a better partner, as research also found that women who divorced after getting top jobs were less likely than others to strike up new relationships or find new cohabitants or spouses.

According to researchers, the real reason for the high rates of divorce is a shift in power dynamics in a marriage. Heterosexual women often enter relationships with men who are older and earn more, while heterosexual men have younger wives who earn less money than them. When this dynamic gets flipped, it creates marital friction at home. This especially occurs when the ‘breadwinner’ status tips towards the woman.

So, can women have it all? If men stop placing importance on their primary earner status, and society stops pressuring men to be primary earners, then there might be scope for women to have it all. Only when marital relationships move away from traditional power dynamics that place unnecessary importance on who makes more money will successful women shine without having to compromise.


Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is a culture writer at The Swaddle. Previously, she worked as a freelance journalist focused on gender and cities. Find her on social media @aditimurti.


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