Arrival of divorce brought more women into workforce
MARRIED women entered the workforce in greater numbers after divorce was legalised as they sought "self-insurance" against the risk of their marriages falling apart, according to a leading think tank.
The Economic Social and Research Institute (ESRI), which examined the impact of the legalisation of divorce on the labour supply of women in Ireland between 1994 to 2001 – including the participation rates of religious and non-religious wives – says its results point to a significant increase in women in the workforce due to the perceived risk of marital breakdown after divorce was legalised in 1996.
Ireland, which has allowed judicial separation since 1989, was the last country in Europe to legalise divorce, offering ESRI researchers unique data to look at the impact of the legalisation of divorce.
Religious women, defined as those who attend church at least once a week, had similar rates of participation in the workforce as their non-religious counterparts up to 1996 when divorce was legalised following a narrow victory for the 'Yes' campaign in a 1995 referendum.
But after 1996, the participation rates of non-religious women increased more sharply than their religious counterparts who attend church at least once a week.
Divorce is banned by the Catholic Church and the ban is reflected in the divorce rates of religious women who have a low rate of marital breakdown at some 3pc.
This compares to non-religious women whose rate of marital breakdown rose from 8pc in 1994 to 12pc in 2001.
Claire Keane, ESRI research analyst, said that the findings suggest that 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.
"They (the findings) suggest that the 1996 divorce legislation has a role to play in explaining at least part of the rise in female participation that occurred over recent decades in Ireland," said Ms Keane who added that the results should please the Catholic Church.
The ESRI research bulletin, released yesterday, is based on data taken from the 'Living in Ireland Survey' and concludes that the possibility of divorce and a rising rate of marital breakdown may encourage married women to increase their labour market participation and strengthen their outside options.
The bulletin is based on a larger paper supplied to the European Economic Review which said that if working helps to secure women's outside options in the case of divorce or separation, an increase in the perceived risk of marital dissolution may accelerate the increase in female labour supply.
According to 2010 data, 41pc of couples of working age with children have a sole male earner while one in five couples are dual earning families with the male working full time and the female working part-time.
There were 2,892 divorces last year, 77 more than in 2011.