Iowa Family Law Blog

Are the economic consequences of divorce improving for women?
Jan. 13, 2012Mary A. Zambreno, Iowa Family Law Blog
Are the economic consequences of divorce improving for women?

Over the years many sobering published statistics have shown a woman’s income typically drops considerably after a divorce.  According to a study cited in an article on the OppenheimerFunds website, a woman’s standard of living drops by about 27% after a divorce from her husband, while the man’s standard of living actually tends to improve.  A U.S. Census Bureau report paints a similarly grim picture, showing the average woman’s family income drops by as much as 37%.  

The reasons for the foregoing statistics seem obvious.  When a family is intact, the spouses’ incomes are pooled to pay for one household’s expenses.  After a divorce, those same incomes are expected to sustain two separate households.  Many states, including Iowa, state that one of the purposes of alimony is to help the lower-earning spouse maintain the same standard of living to which the parties had become accustomed during the marriage – a goal which is nearly impossible for most families who now have, among other additional expenses, two mortgages, two phone bills, and two water bills to pay.  Another obvious reason for men’s and women’s divergent economic paths following divorce is the traditional disparity in their salaries.

Whatever the reasons, though, studies have consistently shown that divorced women – particularly those with children – are more vulnerable to poverty than divorced men.

Until now.  A Fact Sheet recently published by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project includes a statistic that illustrates a dramatic change in the economic outlook for men and women following divorce.  According to this report, in the 1970s a whopping 63% of women who split from their partners experienced a decline in income of 25% or more, while only 30% of their male counterparts experienced such a hit in earnings power.  By the early 2000s, though, the Pew statistic shows the margin between those numbers had almost vanished – 49% of women and 47% of men experienced at least a 25% drop in income after splitting with their partners.  Furthermore, by the early 2000s, more women than men – 20% and 16% respectively – experienced an increase in income of at last 25% after divorcing a spouse or splitting with a live-in partner.  The Pew report attributes the declining risk of a large income drop for women and the increasing risk of a large income drop for men to the narrowing gap between men’s and women’s salaries.

Clearly, divorce still poses a significant risk to the income level of any man or woman, but the Pew report provides hope that the economic outlook might be trending in the right direction for those who have historically been more vulnerable to poverty following divorce.

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Mary A. Zambreno




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