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  • Furlough makes couples’ relationships stronger

    The UK government’s furlough scheme has allowed many couples the time and flexibility for a better work-life balance, strengthening their relationships, a recent ESRC Centre for Population Change (CPC) study has found.

    One in five survey respondents reported improved relationship quality during the pandemic, with only 8% reporting a decline. Policies of economic support, such as the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, seem to protect couples’ relationships.

    The study, led by CPC member Professor Brienna Perelli-Harris with Dr Shih-Yi Chao and Professor Ann Berrington, used new data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) COVID-19 surveys to examine couples’ relationship quality during the pandemic, and differences by socioeconomic status.

    There have been enormous changes to daily routines brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. Families have had to shoulder the responsibilities of restrictions and lockdowns, as well as financial and employment uncertainty. Couples’ relationships have been challenged like never before. The findings of this study, however, have revealed that the increased flexibility and more time spent together during the pandemic may mean better work-family balance - actually improving couple relationships.

    Professor Perelli-Harris comments: “Past, current, and future economic resources and security play an influential role in couple relationship quality. Poor relationship quality can, in turn, have negative consequences for adult and child health and wellbeing. Having better socioeconomic resources makes couples more resilient to the shocks brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. Unsurprisingly, our findings show that worry over uncertain future financial situations worsens relationship quality.

    “One positive outcome of the pandemic that we uncovered, is that the furlough scheme has been an important way for couples to buffer the insecurity that could destabilise their relationships. It seems that this policy has allowed many couples the time and flexibility for a better work-life balance, strengthening their relationships. Policies that are therefore designed to stabilise couples’ financial situations are important for families during the pandemic, particularly for the socioeconomically disadvantaged who are more likely to lose their jobs. Indeed, we believe this is an important consideration when planning the future of all of our working lives; policy-makers should note that improvements in work-life balance and more flexible working conditions have a positive effect on relationships.”

    For a more in-depth analysis of the study's findings, read CPC Policy Briefing 61 'Couples in Crisis: How the government’s furlough scheme has protected relationships during the Covid-19 pandemic'.

    The Understanding Society COVID-19 study is a monthly survey on the experiences and reactions of the UK population to the COVID-19 pandemic, funded by the ESRC and the Health Foundation. Professor Perelli-Harris is the Understanding Society Topic Champion for Families. Part of the Study’s Scientific Leadership Group, she contributed to the design of the family section of the new COVID-19 survey.

    Posted 23/11/2020 10:59