Insights … the high price successful working women pay

Loknath Das

Research has found that women in top jobs face a higher risk of divorce.

The world of work isn’t one of gender equality. You may have noticed. On average, women earn 18% less than men. Partly that’s because four in 10 of them work part time compared with one in 10 for men, but there’s still a 9% pay gap even just looking at full-time workers.

Alongside any (illegal) pay discrimination, much of the gap is driven by women being underrepresented in higher-paying occupations. This isn’t about education – slightly more than half of the working-age population with a master’s degree are women but they make up just 32% of corporate managers and 21% of science and tech professionals.

And women are even more underrepresented at the very top. In 2015, men accounted for 95% of top firms’ CEOs in the Forbes 500. The book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness posited that this is because women are much less likely to take risks and apply for jobs they don’t feel fully qualified for, but new research says perhaps they actually face very different risks to men.

Examining what happens to women in Sweden when they enter top jobs, it finds they pay a high price for career success: a top job in politics or business leads to a higher risk of divorce for women. It makes no difference for men.

The authors share a radical solution from a top Swedish female politician for women wanting to combine career success with marriage: “Find the right husband.” I can’t help feeling that may be missing the point.