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Possibility of marital breakdown encouraging women into workforce

A study by the ESRI showed an increased in women entering the workforce is linked to the legalisation of divorce.

Image: Divorce via Shutterstock

A NEW STUDY has indicated that the increase in the female labour supply may be linked to the risk of marital breakdowns, particularly since the legalisation of divorce.

The research, looking at the impact of the 1996 divorce legislation on the number of women in the workforce, was published by the ESRI yesterday.

The author of the study, Clare Keane, told TheJournal.ie that other research has shown that after a marital breakdown, women and children have a higher risk of poverty.

“We look at this as a favourable thing, women are realising that if their marriage was to breakdown they might be at risk,” she said. “At the time of the referendum on divorce, the ‘no’ campaigners created a lot of fear, saying it would open the ‘floodgates’ for marital breakdowns so I think this is seen as a protection for women.”

Of the total number of couples of working age with children, 41 per cent have a sole male earner while 20 per cent are dual earners with the male working full time and the female working part time.

This study, which is the first of its kind to look at the effect of divorce legislation on the workforce, found that there was a clear upward trend in marital breakdowns between 1984 and 2007. It looked at two groups of women – those who were religious and not likely to seek a divorce and those who were not religious.

Comparing the trends in female labour supply and participation rates of religious and non-religious women it found that both groups had a similar trend in participation prior to 1996 but that after this point the participation rates of non-religious women increased more sharply.

Keane said the research finds that women with a higher risk of marital breakdown (non-religious women) increased their participation rates by around 5 percentage points more than women at a lower risk (religious women).

Interestingly, the effect is not driven by an increase in the number of hours women already in employment are working but increased participation by women who were not previously working.

“This finding suggests that having some attachment to the labour market, rather than increasing hours worked, is important as a form of ‘self insurance’ in the case of marital breakdown and suggests that the 1996 divorce legalisation has a role to play in explaining at least part of the rise in female participation that occurred over recent decades in Ireland,” Keane concluded in the study.

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