Study: Higher divorce rates make American women work harder

at 11:49 AM ET, 05/18/2012

It’s a long-established fact that Americans work longer hours than their European counterparts—30 percent more, according to recent studies.

Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries: not happily ever after. (Matt Sayles - AP)

You’ll typically hear it’s because of our work ethic and smaller welfare state: We continue to be the country of Thoreau, Jefferson, and the Puritans, while Europeans prefer their mandatory six weeks of vacation.

But it turns out that’s only part of the explanation, according to a new VoxEU paper by three European economists. They found that lower tax rates on labor do encourage men to work more hours in the U.S., compared to European countries with higher effective tax rates. But there isn’t the same correlation among women.

Instead, researchers found that higher divorce rates tend to have the same effect on American women that lower tax rates have on American men.

Why would this be the case? Researchers believe it’s because marriage provides “implicit social insurance” for women, who are still more likely to be the secondary income-earners in the U.S. and Europe. So in the U.S., where divorce rates are higher, “women have a higher incentive to obtain work experience in case they find themselves alone in the future,” they write. “European women anticipate not getting divorced as often and hence find less reason to insure themselves by working as much as American women.”

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