Big Promotions Increase Odds of Divorce for Women, but Not for Men

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New research has identified yet another challenge facing professional women. A big promotion increases women’s odds of getting a divorce. But the same isn’t true for men.

A new study from Swedish researchers Olle Folke and Johanna Rickne found correlations between women getting promoted to the top job in their fields and incidents of divorce. In fact, a top promotion can actually double a woman’s chance of divorce. Men, on the other hand, weren’t found to experience a higher rate of divorce after earning a promotion. Here’s what you need to know:

Divorce rates for women double for the three years following a big promotion

Folke and Rickne examined 30 years of Swedish register data for this research. The employees they studied were 50 years old on average, and had been married for around 20 years. They sought to identify how job promotions, both in the public and private sector, impacted family life and partnerships.

They found the marriages of women working in private firms with more than 100 employees were impacted by being promoted to CEO in a statistically significant way. Married women were found to be twice as likely as their male counterparts to get divorced within three years of earning such a promotion.

Researchers also found that women who work in the political arena were seven percentage points less likely to stay married to their spouse if they got elected. They found that men’s divorce rates were not affected by winning or losing a political election.

“Gender traditional” relationships were the most vulnerable

The researchers sought to understand why these relationships would be challenged following a woman’s promotion. They found that marriages had the most trouble when the couple had ascribed to traditional gender roles early on in their relationship. (They determined this by examining how much parental leave was taken and by whom.) If the early focus was on the man’s career more than the woman’s, the shift later on proved to be more difficult to navigate.

They also found that couples who were more equally focusing on both partners’ careers early on were not affected by an increased divorce rate following a promotion. Couples that go into their relationship with more balance deal with the challenges that arise following a major promotion more easily.

Women in leadership roles face additional challenges

This new research adds to the growing body of information about the unique challenges facing women in leadership roles. Women are paid less than men, and women are also promoted less often. They often face difficulties finding professional allies; leadership is especially lonely for women. And, they may need to negotiate a little differently than their male counterparts, among other issues.

The first step toward reversing these obstacles is to identify them. It’s essential to face the reality of these discrepancies head on if we are to make progress.

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