Wealthy wives have taken more time off work to look after their children in the years since a landmark divorce judgment, an economist has claimed.
Speaking to the Royal Economic Society conference in Brighton, Daniela Piazzalunga of Turin University said that “English married women have on average been doing 1.5 to 2.5 fewer hours of work a week” than they have done in previous years. However, this trend “only happens among richer, more educated couples who can afford to work less in the first place”.
Miss Piazzalunga’s study was based on an analysis of data from more than 9,000 homes over 25 years gathered by the British Household Panel Survey. This is a long-term social and economic study run by the University of Essex.
The shift occurred following White v White, a divorce decision in 2000 in which judges ruled that the assets of a millionaire farming couple should be divided equally, she claimed. Since then, English divorce courts have compensated wives who do not work for the time they put into childcare.
This pattern could lead some to question the need for an equal division of assets in a divorce, Miss Piazzalunga suggested. While it does “protect women who already work less to care for the home”, it could also “reinforce the traditional division of labour” and gradually push women out of the workforce.
In 2014, a survey of women by the Education Department found that as many as six in ten would work fewer hours and a third would give up their job entirely once they had children if they could afford it. Last year, a similar survey by the Business, Innovation and Skills Department found that a majority of women believe nine months is the minimum amount of time for a new mother to stay home from work. In that study, more than a quarter claimed mothers should not be under any pressure to ever return to their jobs.