If a woman suddenly starts working longer hours, it could be a telltale sign that her marriage is on the rocks.
Women whose marriages are collapsing will clock up an average of 283 hours a year - or six hours per working week - more than those who are in stable, happy relationships, according to a study by economists.
While one explanation could be that they prefer to spend time with their workmates rather than with an estranged husband, the research suggests the motivation is mainly financial.
Women facing divorce want to boost their income before breaking up and also want to ensure they are employable when reliant on their own earning power.
By working longer, maybe moving from part-time to full-time work, they build skills and are less marginalised in the job market.
Men respond differently. Faced with a marriage break-up, they do not throw themselves into work. If anything, they cut down slightly on their hours.
The research paper, The Effect of Divorce Risk on the Labour Supply of Married Couples, will be presented this week by Kerry Papps, a Cornell University economist, at the Royal Economic Society annual conference at Warwick University.
The findings were derived by comparing women’s working hours with their marital status.
If a woman was married one year but divorced a year or two later, it was assumed that she would have seen the break-up coming.
That was then compared with her working hours to produce a significant statistical match.
“If someone is unhappy they may throw themselves into work, and the socialising that goes with it, as a way of distracting them from being unhappy,” said Denise Knowles, a counsellor with Relate, Britain’s largest provider of relationship counselling and sex therapy.
“I don’t think this always happens at a conscious level. Things may be unpleasant or unhappy at home so they work harder because there is a sense of stability at work. They may not feel valued at home but they do at work.”
The paper also includes so-called “hazard” rates for divorce - the time after marriage when the risk of break-up is greatest.
For those in their first marriage, the risk of break-up peaks after four to five years. Women who remarry are much less likely to get divorced.
- The Sunday Times