Dollars, Dependency, and Divorce: Four Perspectives on the Role of Wives’ Income


  • Department of Sociology, The Pennsylvania State University, 404 Oswald Tower, University Park, PA 16802-6207 (


This article delineates and assesses the evidence for four perspectives that have guided previous research on the relationship between wives’ economic resources and marital stability. Hypotheses from these perspectives were tested using event history methods and 1980–1997 panel data for 1,704 individuals from the Marital Instability Over the Life Course study. Both wives’ dollar income and wives’ percentage of total family income served as measures of wives’ economic resources. The association between wives’ percentage of income and divorce formed an inverted U-shaped curve, with the odds of divorce being highest when wives contributed between approximately 40% and 50% of the total family income. When wives’ resources were measured in dollars, wives’ income showed a positive, linear association with the odds of divorce. These findings provide the strongest support for an equal dependence perspective, which argues that economic dependence and obligation influence marital stability.