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Lost Job, Lost Spouse

Everyone knows that financial stress can help break up a marriage. But a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research Inc. shows that some financial problems are more likely than others to lead to divorce.

In particular, the authors of the study, Kerwin Kofi Charles of University of Michigan and Melvin Stephens Jr. of Carnegie Mellon University, find that being fired from a job significantly raises the probability of getting divorced. Married men who are fired have an 18% higher chance of being divorced within the next three years, while women have a 13% higher chance.

But someone losing his or her job because of disability doesn't mean a significantly increased probability of seeing the marriage break up. Similarly, a plant closing that affects a group of people doesn't raise the odds of divorce.

By way of explanation, Charles and Stephens suggest that the character traits that cause a person to be laid off could also make him or her a bad mate. "For example, if a wife can conclude that a husband lost his job because of his repeated irresponsibility or bad temper," they write, "she should conclude both that he is likely to face employment troubles in the future and that he may not be a good person with whom to raise children."

By contrast, a plant closing or a sudden disability is viewed as bad luck rather than a deserved punishment for a bad personality. These events are less likely to spark a divorce even though, in the case of disability, the income loss to the couple is generally greater. By Margaret Popper in New York

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