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How does employment instability affect union dissolution?

Understanding the role of employment status, contract type and gender differences

Woman in White Dress Shirt and Black Skirt Sitting on Gray Couch

Source: cottonbro

While employment instability has been shown to affect union formation and childbearing dynamics, existing research indicates a theoretical ambivalence concerning the direction of the effects of employment instability on union dissolution. On one side, the relational stress hypothesis suggests that employment instability increases psychological distress and exacerbates marital discord, thus increasing the risk of union dissolution. Conversely, the cost of divorce perspective argues that unfavourable economic conditions may reduce union dissolution by rising its relative cost, i.e., legal settlements, household relocation or increasing the costs of consumer durables.

Elena Bastianelli (University of Turin) and Daniele Vignoli (University of Florence) study the relationship between employment instability and union dissolution by: (1) considering not only the effect of joblessness but also the type of employment contract; (2) evaluating both the status and accumulation of instability over the life course; and (3) detecting gender differences. They study the case of Italy applying event-history techniques to the recently released data of the 2016 Italian Multipurpose Survey ‘Families, social subjects and life cycle’, conducted by the Italian National Institute of Statistics (Istat).

Their results suggest that in the Italian context, even when analysing recent data, the effect of employment instability on union dissolution is gender-specific: joblessness and limited-time employment are facilitators for men’s dissolution, while, for women, joblessness is an inhibitor for dissolution and time-limited and permanent employment do not substantially differ. Their paper advances—for the first time for Italy, at least—that men’s time-limited employment arrangements negatively affect a couple’s stability.

The study provides updated insights into the role of employment instability on union dissolution and categorically rejects the notion of a unidirectional relationship. Findings emphasize the importance of fully considering different dimensions of employment instability, including distinguishing between time-limited and permanent employment contracts, considering the role of instability accumulation throughout employment careers and elucidating gender differences.

Author(s) of the original publication
Elena Bastianelli