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Research shows that women are more likely to get divorced shortly after a promotion — and that's not always a bad thing

Business Insider logo Business Insider 2/19/2020 Valerie H. Tocci
a close up of a man and a woman looking at the camera © Netflix
  • Valerie H. Tocci is a partner at Stutman, Stutman, & Lichtenstein, LLP.
  • She represents individuals and families in all aspects of matrimonial and family law, including divorce, custody, spousal and child support, equitable distribution of property, pre-nuptial, post-nuptial, and divorce agreements, post-judgment matters, hearings, and trials.
  • Recent research shows that recently promoted women are more likely to divorce compared to their male colleagues.
  • If divorce becomes necessary, you're not alone - estimates of the rate of divorce are around 45%.

This Valentine's Day may have passed without much fanfare for many recently promoted, married women. According to recent research co-authored by Johanna Rickne, a professor at Stockholm University, women who received big promotions were more likely to get divorced. Dr. Rickne's research examined men and women employed by private businesses with 100 employees or more and found that married women were twice as likely to divorce three years after a CEO-level promotion when compared to male colleagues.

Additionally, researchers examined three decades of worker records in the public sector and found women elected to public office were almost twice as likely to divorce following a successful election. Female physicians, members of law enforcement, and clergy who earned major promotions also followed the trend.

Researchers believe post-promotion tension and conflict could be to blame. When couples experience a radical shift in roles, it could cause problems. From a decrease in time spent together to a change in division of household tasks, promotions can introduce stress, especially where gender norms are involved.

a woman posing for the camera © Courtesy of Valerie H. Tocci

"It is still seen as quite unusual for men to be the main supportive spouse in someone else's career," said Rickne in an interview last month with the BBC. She theorizes that husbands find the transition more difficult than their wives, and points out the labor market has traditionally lagged behind gender equality. And unfortunately, she says, "this norm changing is pretty far off."

Things that come part and parcel with CEO status can put a strain on relationships as well. Long hours in the office, a high profile in the community, and constant travel might make it difficult for some couples to manage. Other times, husbands may become concerned about the perceived power balance in their relationship.

Charlotte Ljung, a 39-year-old Swedish CEO, maintains an online support group for people getting divorced. She told the BBC that Rickne's research reflects experiences within her own life, and the network of women she's met.

Related gallery: The top 10 reasons couples go to therapy, according to a psychotherapist

"Men today often find it intriguing in the beginning and want to be seen to support you and root for you - and I think that is a very positive thing - but I think a few steps down the line, when reality kicks in, it can be more difficult for men to deal with," Ljung told the BBC.

Ljung told the BCC that the joke among successful women is: "The better you do at work, the more likely you are going to get a divorce."

But luckily, women can decrease the chance of this occurring at the height of their career - they must simply choose the right partner. For centuries, American women have lived in a society where their best route to the top 1% is to marry rich, according to 2019 research published in the American Sociological Review. And because the gap hasn't narrowed in over 20 years, we've taught women to find the most successful husband possible. But for high-status women, other prerequisites might be more optimal, such as seeking out a partner closer in age for a more egalitarian relationship.

This idea is supported by Rickne's research, which found divorces following career boosts were most common in marriages where the wife was younger by a large margin and took a larger amount of maternity leave. Couples similar in age are actually much less likely to get divorced and enjoy a more egalitarian outlook on spousal roles. As a result, these couples were less likely to seek a divorce post-promotion.

Creating long-term goals and expectations is another good way to avoid potential marriage problems post-promotion. Men should discuss their own long-term career goals with their spouse and go over any issues with a marriage counselor. This can help couples troubleshoot common challenges that arise after women are promoted. Sometimes, simply being aware of these issues can save a marriage.

Other times, a relationship has legitimately failed and divorce becomes absolutely necessary. After all, according to a paper published by the University of British Columbia's School of Social Work and Family Studies, divorce is more common in parts of the world with a higher degree of gender equality. Custody arrangements and shifting social norms have made divorce a more viable option for working women, and it is often for the best. While it can be a long, difficult process, in these cases divorce is often the only option for both parties to achieve happiness.

And if you do choose divorce, you should know you're not alone. According to the American Psychological Association, about 40 to 50% of married couples in the United States divorce. The divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher.

Society has grown to become more accepting of divorce because it can indeed be a positive experience. Very few clients I've worked with ever regret getting a divorce, and the vast majority describe the experience as "liberating."

Regardless, it's good to have a plan for coping with the process. We recommend creating a daily schedule for yourself and sticking to it. This will help provide a sense of consistency that is key during stressful and uncertain times. We also recommend consulting with a licensed mental healthcare provider as soon as possible to explore your options. Keeping a level head during this highly emotional and personal time will help you get the best results out of your divorce.

Clients should also reach out to their attorneys for as much information on the process as possible. The more they know about the legal process, the less stressful it's likely to be. Lawyers can also give advice on how to reach support communities, as well as ways to best proceed emotionally.

Know your options, and no matter what you decide, be sure to consult with a legal and mental health professional, practice self-care, and don't look back.

Related video: The cost of divorce (provided by Buzz60)

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