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'The better you work, the sooner you divorce': why successful women’s marriages collapse

'19.08.2022'

Source: Air force

In Sweden, women joke: “The better you work, the sooner you get divorced.” Scientists have indeed found that for them the price of success at work is very high: promotion greatly increases the likelihood of divorce. And it's not like that for men. Why? Tells Air force.

Photo: Shutterstock

Many of us dream of having a successful career and at the same time finding a faithful and beloved life partner. But even in countries that give women equal opportunities with men, it is much more difficult for a woman who holds a high position at work to successfully marry than a man in a similar situation.

Take, for example, Sweden, which ranks first in the ranking of gender equality in EU countries. It provides long parental leave, the state subsidizes kindergartens, parents are allowed to have flexible working hours, and so on.

Swedish economists recently studied how career advancement in high office affects the likelihood of divorce - for both sexes. Result: in women, this probability is much higher than in men.

“Promotion in politics increases the divorce rate among women, but not among men. And women who become CEOs get divorced faster than men in the same situation, ”concludes Johanna Rikne, a professor at Stockholm University and co-author of a study published in the American Economic Journal in early January.

A study in which scientists observed the lives of heterosexual men and women working in private companies (from 100 employees and more) found that married women divorced twice as often as men in a similar situation three years after being appointed to the post of general director.

In the civil service, according to data for 30 years, women mayors and parliamentarians who held high posts as a result of elections, thereby doubled the likelihood of divorce.

Eight years after the election, only 75% remained married, compared with 85% of those who were not so successful in politics. Scientists have not found anything similar in men.

Women doctors, police officers, priests, as they moved up the career ladder, risked their relationship with a partner in the same way.

The authors of the study note that although most of the participants had children, they were no longer living with their parents by the time they decided to divorce, so the gap was not related to the hardships of caring for a small child.

As Rikne emphasizes, although the law and social structure in Sweden is such that you should theoretically not be faced with the choice of “either work or family,” research has shown that in real life, women going for promotion are not so simple.

For many couples, the number of conflicts increases, friction and stressful situations arise, associated with the changed social and economic situation of the wife and born of a mismatch of expectations. For example, due to the fact that she now has less time for joint family leisure or for housework.

Although Rikne's research did not delve into who initiated the divorces, one theory is that the husbands of newly promoted female executives found the situation more difficult than women who are married to male bosses.

Rikneh points out that the modern marriage market simply does not keep up with the labor market on gender equality issues, as “it is still considered unusual for a man to be a caring spouse to a wife who has achieved great career success.”

“I think there is still a long way to go before change,” she adds. Therefore, Rikne believes, the results of her research can be seen as a lesson for those wishing to understand what awaits other countries moving in the same direction as Sweden - towards a more egalitarian society.

On the subject: Divorce before the eyes of the whole world: how the marriages of royal people collapsed

Common Alarms

Charlotte Leung, 39, is the CEO of a Swedish luxury furniture company. In addition, she provides online counseling services to those who have divorced. Rikne's findings, she says, reflect the anxieties that are common among women she knows who have achieved great things in their jobs and careers.

“We joke: the better you work, the sooner you get divorced,” she laughs.

Leung divorced when her two children were still young. For her, she says, the balancing act between being a parent and having a high position in a company has been a major source of friction in her marriage.

But, Leung believes, even if there are no children in the family of a female boss, frequent business trips, long hours of work and constant stress, born of high responsibility, often cause conflicts between spouses.

In addition, the question arises: who is in charge in the house? Who brings home more money?

“Today, men often find it intriguing to meet a woman in a high position at work. At first, they try to support her in every way, worry about her successes and failures. And this is very good. But a little time passes, and they are faced with a reality that is not easy for them to digest, ”the professor believes.

Choose the right partner

So what should women bosses do, how to mitigate the influence of their position on relations with her husband?

According to Rikne, even in egalitarian states such as Sweden, women tend to still marry older men who earn more money. And in this one can hear an echo of the past, when girls dreamed of marrying a fairy-tale prince, when the ability to find a successful and rich husband was highly valued.

“[The problem is also that] high-status, high-income women are not looking for a low-income husband who is willing to become a 'householder'. But if you look at the situation realistically, it is better to build equal relations from the very beginning,” she is convinced.

Her research in Sweden showed that most often divorces after promotion at work occurred in couples where the wife was much younger than her husband and took most of the parental leave (in Sweden, parents have the right to divide such leave equally among themselves).

Those couples who were closer in age and where the approach to caring for a child was more equal, were much less likely to get divorced due to the career growth of his wife.

Positive examples

38-year-old Charlotte Sundoker was appointed Acting General Director of an international educational company in Stockholm two years after the birth of her first child.

Her partner Christian Hagman is 31 years old. According to Charlotte, the fact that Christian is younger played a positive role in the situation when she was promoted. He experienced much less stress (they say I'm not so successful!), Because he was at another stage of his career.

According to Sundoker, Hagman belongs to another generation, whose representatives are trying to break the stereotypes of expectations, what should be a man. He is very sensitive to her workload.

But the main reason that they are still together, according to Christian and Charlotte, is the frequent and frank conversations about the difficulties they face.

“When she started as CEO, she was consumed by it, which is quite normal, because this is such a job,” explains Hagman. “I was a little sad that we began to communicate less often ... But she listened to me, and I did the same.”

Christian and Charlotte believe that it was useful to see the prospect: for example, to understand that in the future, Hagman may also come a period when work and career will require more from him.

Now he has opened his own design consultancy, and Sundocker is also self-employed and runs Ownershift, a Swedish think tank that helps women start their own businesses.

Divorced Charlotte Leung believes that being aware of the dangers that await a man-woman relationship when she becomes a boss at work can increase the chances that things will go smoother and will not break up - even for couples who started their marriage more traditional gender roles.

“There is no need to rush to put on a feminist hat, point fingers at each other and look for someone to blame, because it is very difficult for a man to make such a turn, almost impossible to prepare,” she says. “We need to talk more and more often about this problem, find tools to solve it.”

On the subject: Why half of people live in loveless marriages, and in what cases is this not a reason for divorce

Divorce Benefits

Meanwhile, divorce is not always bad. Molly Malm, a Lexly lawyer, points out that Sweden’s high rate of divorce (compared to the rest of the EU) is related to the gender equality that Swedes want.

A significant proportion of working women and the rule that both parents have the same rights to care for a child after a divorce make it easier to decide whether to break up if the relationship does not work.

“Divorce is not always the end of the world,” Malm says, noting that in Scandinavia it is now considered normal to marry multiple times or have multiple long-term relationships in a lifetime.

“Sweden is not a very religious country… You get married because it is nice and romantic, it is associated with the holiday. If that doesn’t work for you, then you understand that you can get a divorce.”

The data collected by Professor Rikne suggest that women who get divorced shortly after being appointed to a higher position are less likely than men in a similar situation to marry again or enter into a serious relationship.

However, from her research it is impossible to conclude - either they simply feel better without a partner, or it is difficult to find a suitable one.

Although, she argues, there is one constructive consequence of the high divorce rate: it has become much easier for both single Swedish men and single Swedish women to fulfill the duties of a leader - both in business and in politics.

“In other countries… if, for example, you are running an election campaign and want to please the voters, then you are almost obliged to have a wife or husband by your side. It's the same with CEOs - their spouses are becoming a must-have in the business world. But this is not the case in Sweden, ”Rikne explains.

“The society is more tolerant of divorce. This is probably good, she says. “If a woman is married to a man who does not support her success at work, then divorce allows her to move up the career ladder alone, and maybe even look for a new partner ... Living with one partner all her life is not always an ideal solution.” ...

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