Feature: Dr. Alyson Byrne

Dr-Alyson-ByrneDr. Alyson Byrne has discovered that women who have higher status jobs than their spouses need their partners to pitch in at home in order to sustain successful relationships.

Dr. Byrne’s research looks at women in high status (not necessarily equated with high paid) positions whose husbands or heterosexual partners have lower status jobs, and how that dichotomy affects marital stability. She has also explored factors that help mitigate instability.

“What we found was that if women saw their job status was higher than that of their husbands, they were more likely to experience wives’ status leakage, meaning they felt their spouses’ position detracted from the status they had worked hard to achieve,” said Dr. Byrne.

The concept of status leakage comes from organizational science and examines the impact on a firm’s reputation when a higher status organization partners with a lower status one.

The lower status firm typically benefits by way of a reputation boost, whereas the partnership may be detrimental to the reputation of the higher status firm.

The same is happening in marriages and common law relationships, Dr. Byrne says, making women more likely to
experience dissatisfaction in their relationships or think about separation or divorce.

The good news, however, is that it can be prevented.

“We wanted this to not be a doom-and-gloom study, so we also measured how wives perceived the support they received from their husbands, both emotional support and instrumental support,” she said.

“We were a little surprised, but emotional support didn’t make a significant difference in the model. However, when wives perceived their husbands to be providing them with instrumental support, then the relationship wasn’t negatively affected.”

The study’s results may offer a brighter view of women’s ability to take ownership of their own lives, says Dr. Byrne, and that divorce isn’t necessarily negative if it’s something that a person feels is going to make them more satisfied, more successful and happier.

Dr. Byrne plans to conduct further study on status leakage within relationships across different socio-economic classes.

It’s research that can go a long way towards equality between the sexes, both at home and in the workplace, she says.


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