Gender roles in marriage have apparently not evolved equally, according to researchers involved in multiple studies that examine unemployment and its role in divorce.

The time-honored and oft-pointed to — although certainly less typical than in bygone days — standard in American marriages has historically been the working dad and the stay-at-home mom who takes care of the kids.

That prototypical arrangement has obviously undergone great change in recent decades, with many millions of women joining the workforce and earning a salary outside the home. On the flip side, it has also brought — to a lesser extent — a turnabout in which some men forgo a salary — either by choice or through involuntary unemployment — to stay home and tend to the children.

An Ohio State University researcher, Linda Sayer, calls that the “asymmetrical revolution.” Studies of many thousands of married couple reveal the following findings:

  • Women’s employment does not by itself lead to tension or increase the likelihood of divorce (although it better enables women to divorce if they are unhappy)
  • Whether a woman works or not generally has no bearing on whether her husband might want a divorce
  • A woman will leave a man more quickly and more often, though, if he is unemployed
  • An unemployed man will also seek to terminate a marriage more often than a working husband

Some researchers call that the “double-whammy” for men. Sayer says that it reveals a national mindset where most people still view an unemployed male who is at home negatively.

Findings in an American Journal of Sociology study buttress that view, noting that — at least for men — unemployment is a better predictor of divorce than is unhappiness.

The bottom line: Employment status is a predominant factor that drives men to leave a marriage.

Depression may play into that. Says Sayer: “Men are still held to an older standard than women and penalized by employers and stigmatized if they are doing what’s perceived as women’s work.”

Related Resource: Time, “Stay-at-Home Dads Are More Likely to Divorce” July 11, 2011