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Journal Issue: Children and Divorce Volume 4 Number 1 Spring/Summer 1994

Financial Impact of Divorce on Children and Their Families
Jay D. Teachman Kathleen M. Paasch


  1. This argument assumes that income is distributed equally within two-parent families. If income is not distributed equally, total household income before and after divorce may not be an accurate representation of change in children's economic well-being.
  2. See for example, Burkhauser, R., Duncan, G., Hauser, R., and Berntsen, R. Wife or frau, women do worse: A comparison of men and women in the United States and Germany following marital dissolution. Demography (1991) 28:353–60; Burkhauser, R., and Duncan, G. Economic risks of gender roles: Income loss and life events over the life course. Social Science Quarterly (1989) 70:3–23; Corcoran, M. The economic consequences of marital dissolution for women in the middle years. Sex Roles (1979) 5:343–53; Duncan, G., and Hoffman, S. Economic consequences of marital instability. In Horizontal equity: Uncertainty and economic well-being. M. David and T. Smeeding, eds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985, pp. 427–67; Espenshade, T. The economic consequences of divorce. Journal of Marriage and the Family (1979) 41:615–25; Hoffman, S., and Duncan, G. What are the economic consequences of divorce? Demography (1988) 25:641–45; Holden, K., and Smock, P. The disproportionate cost? Annual Review of Sociology (1991) 17:51–78; McLindon, J. Separate but unequal: The economic disaster of divorce for women and children. Family Law Quarterly (1987) 21:351–409; Morgan, L. Economic well-being following marital termination. Journal of Family Issues (1989) 10:86–101; Mott, F., and Moore, S. The causes and consequences of marital breakdown. In Women, work, and the family. F. Mott, ed. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1978, pp. 113–35; Nestel, G., Mercier, J., and Shaw, L. Economic consequences of midlife change in marital status. In Unplanned careers: The working lives of middle-aged women. L. Shaw, ed. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1983, pp. 109–25; Stirling, K. Women who remain divorced: Long-term consequences. Social Science Quarterly (1989) 93:549–61; Weiss, R. The impact of marital dissolution on income and consumption in single parent households. Journal of Marriage and the Family (1984) 46:115–27; Weitzman, L.J. The divorce revolution: The unexpected social and economic consequences for women and children in America. New York: Free Press, 1985.
  3. U.S. Bureau of the Census. Poverty in the United States: 1991. Current Population Reports, Series P-60, No. 181. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1992.
  4. Actually, the SIPP sample consists of four rotations. That is, one-fourth of the sample was interviewed in October of 1983, one-fourth in November of 1983, one-fourth in December of 1983, and one-fourth in January of 1984. Each rotation is then followed up in four-month panels.
  5. Unfortunately, there simply are no good data for examining the long-term effects of divorce. The longest duration we are able to study is approximately five years after divorce. Although the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) contains the sort of detailed information necessary to study longer durations, small sample sizes prohibit its use for the study of long-term consequences. Additionally, even if such long-term information was available, it would be of questionable value. After about five years, say, it would be difficult to justify any economic outcomes because the accumulation of other life course events would muddy causal links.
  6. Income includes earnings from employment and assets, as well as income from other sources such as Social Security, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), child support, and alimony.
  7. Values for each measure of economic well-being are shown for five groups of children in the 1984 SIPP: all children, children who lived with both parents continuously for all eight panels, children in families in which the father left during one of the eight panels, children who lived with only their mother for all eight panels, and children who lived in families into which a "father" (either biological, step, or adoptive) entered during one of the eight panels. Fathers can leave either through separation or divorce and can enter either through reconciliation or remarriage. Note that we do not consider cases in which the mother left the household. There are not enough cases where the father retains custody of the children in the SIPP sample to provide a statistical profile at the present time, although alternatives such as father custody and joint legal custody are becoming more prevalent (Bianchi, S. The changing demographic and socioeconomic character of single-parent families. Forthcoming in Marriage and Family Review; Ghosh, S., Easterlin, R., and Macunovich, D. How badly have single parents done? Trends in economic status of single parents since 1964. Presented at the Population Association Meetings in Cincinnati, Ohio, 1993), mothers continue to retain physical custody of children in the majority of cases (Seltzer, J. Legal custody arrangements and children's economic welfare. American Journal of Sociology [1991] 96:895–929).
  8. See note no. 2, Burkhauser, Duncan, Hauser, and Berntsen; and Hoffman and Duncan.
  9. See note no. 2, Mott and Moore; Nestel, Mercier, and Shaw; Weiss; and Weitzman.
  10. These data indicate that marital disruption is a significant factor associated with falling into poverty for women and children. A variety of other research supports this point. For example, Burkhauser and Duncan, using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, found that one-quarter of married women ages 26 to 35 who divorce or separate experience a decrease in their income-to-needs ratio of at least 50% and fall to a ratio of 1.5 or less. Moreover, for women, marital disruption is the most common reason for experiencing a large drop in the income-to-needs ratio that places them within 1.5 times the poverty level. For men, job-related circumstances are by far the most common events leading to subsequent poverty. (See also Conger, R., Elder, G., Lorenz, F., et al. Linking economic hardship to marital quality and instability. Journal of Marriage and the Family [1990] 52:643–56; Hernandez, D. When households continue, discontinue and form. Current Population Reports, Series P-23, No. 179. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1992.) However, it is also true that the majority of new spells of poverty are not associated with marital transitions, even for women and children (Bane, M.J. Household composition and poverty. In Fighting poverty: What works and what doesn't. S. Danziger and D. Weinberg, eds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986, pp. 209–31). Two-parent families comprise the majority of new entrants into poverty, usually because of loss of a job by either spouse or a reduction in income.
  11. See note no. 2, Corcoran.
  12. Duncan, G., and Hoffman, S. A reconsideration of the economic consequences of marital dissolution. Demography (1985) 22:485–97.
  13. See note no. 3, U.S. Bureau of the Census. Note also that the 48% figure is somewhat higher than the poverty rate indicated in Table 1 because never-married women are included in the category of female-headed households. These families face even worse economic deprivation than ever-married families headed by women.
  14. Eggebeen, D., and Lichter, D. Race, family structure, and changing poverty among American children. American Sociological Review (1991) 56:801–17.
  15. Bane, M.J., and Elwood, D. Slipping into and out of poverty: The dynamics of spells. Journal of Human Resources (1986) 21:1–23.
  16. Duncan, G., Coe, R., and Hill, M. The dynamics of poverty. In Years of poverty, years of plenty. G. Duncan, ed. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984, pp. 33–70.
  17. While data in Tables 4, 5, and 6 are presented for the period immediately preceding divorce, a causal link is not necessarily established because families may implement change prior to divorce in anticipation that disruption will occur.
  18. These figures may, in fact, be viewed as worse-case scenarios in that some women who neither reconciled nor remarried may be cohabiting or living in extended families where there is likely to be some income sharing not reflected in these figures. Ghosh and colleagues estimate that approximately one-third of all single parents are cohabiting in some way. (See note no. 7, Ghosh, Easterlin, and Macunovich.)
  19. See note no. 2, Corcoran; Duncan and Hoffman; Mott and Moore; Stirling; and Weiss. See also Hoffman, S. Marital instability and the economic status of women. Demography (1977) 14:67-76.
  20. Norton, A., and Miller, L. U.S. Bureau of the Census. Marriage, divorce and remarriage in the 1990's. Current Population Reports, Series P-23, No. 180. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1992.
  21. See note no. 7, Ghosh, Easterlin, and Macunovich.
  22. Goldscheider, F., and Waite, L. New families, no families: The transformation of the American home. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.
  23. Presser, H. Shift work among American women and child care. Journal of Marriage and the Family (1986) 48:551–62.
  24. Blau, D., and Robins, P. Fertility, employment and child-care costs. Demography (1989) 26:287–99; O'Connell, M., and Bloom, D. Juggling jobs and babies: America's child care challenge. Population Bulletin, No. 12. Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau, 1987; Presser, H., and Baldwin, W. Child care as a constraint on employment: Prevalence, correlates and bearing on the work and fertility nexus. American Journal of Sociology (1980) 85:1202–13.
  25. Grella, C. Strategies for surviving divorce: The contradictions of welfare. Affilia (1988) 3:24–37; Garfinkel, I., and McLanahan, S. Single mothers and their children: A new American dilemma. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press, 1986.
  26. AFDC is a means-tested cash benefit made available to low-income single mothers. Originally enacted to help widows and their children, AFDC payments have since become the primary support for low-income divorced and never-married mothers. In 1990, 44.1% of single mothers received means-tested cash assistance of which AFDC is the major program. Food stamps are a means-tested noncash benefit that enables low-income households to purchase food. Virtually all low-income households are eligible to receive food stamps regardless of household composition, making this the largest income support program. In 1990, 47% of single mothers received food stamps. Other forms of public assistance that may supplement single mothers' income are Medicaid (received by 51.4%), public or subsidized housing (received by 23%), and school lunches (9.5% of single mothers receive school lunches for their children). See note no. 3, U.S. Bureau of the Census.
  27. U.S. Bureau of the Census. Measuring the effect of benefits and taxes on income and poverty, 19791991. Current Population Reports, Series P-60, No. 192-RD. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1992.
  28. The Census Bureau's income definition 14, in addition to standard income, includes the earned income tax credit (a refundable tax credit for persons who qualify); the estimated cash value of Medicare, Medicaid, and noncash transfers; and both means- and non-means- tested cash transfers. Means-tested cash transfers are based on need (that is, AFDC payments) while non-means-tested transfers are based on other criteria (that is, Social Security payments, Pell grants). See note no. 27, U.S. Bureau of the Census.
  29. Garfinkel, I. Child support assurance: A new tool for achieving social security. In Child support: From debt collection to social policy. A. Kahn and S. Kamerman, eds. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1988, pp. 328–42.
  30. We recognize that nonresident mothers may also be required to pay child support. However, the vast majority of nonresident parents are fathers, and our terminology reflects this fact.
  31. Peterson, J., and Nord, C. The regular receipt of child support: A multi-step process. Journal of Marriage and the Family (1990) 52:539–52.
  32. U.S. Bureau of the Census. Child support and alimony: 1989. Current Population Reports, Series P-60, No. 173. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1991. These percentages are for divorced women who have not remarried. Child support payments comprise 20% of total income for all remarried women. For remarried women below the poverty level, child support represents 52% of their total income.
  33. Arendell, T. Women and the economics of divorce in the contemporary United States. Signs (1987)13:121–35.
  34. Garfinkel, I., and Oellerich, D. Noncustodial fathers' ability to pay child support. Demography (1989) 26:219–33; Garfinkel, I., Oellerich, D., and Robins, P. Child support guidelines: Will they make a difference? Journal of Family Issues (1991) 12:404-29; Haskins, R., Schwartz, J.B., Akin, J., and Dobelstein, A. How much child support can absent fathers pay? Policy Studies Journal (1985) 14:201–22.
  35. See note no. 34, Garfinkel and Oellerich.
  36. See note no. 34, Haskins, Schwartz, Akin, and Dobelstein; Lerman, R. Child support and dependency. Unpublished report for the Center for Human Resources, Heller Graduate School, Brandeis University; Meyer, D. Child support and welfare dynamics: Evidence from Wisconsin. Demography (1993) 30:45–62; Meyer, D., Garfinkel, I., Robins, P., and Oellerich, D. The costs and effects of a national child support assurance system. Institute for Research on Poverty, Discussion Paper No. 940–91. Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1991.
  37. See note no. 36, Meyer.
  38. Nichols-Casebolt, A. The economic impact of child support reform on the poverty status of custodial and noncustodial parents. Journal of Marriage and the Family (1986) 48:875-80.
  39. Maccoby, E.E., and Mnookin, R.H. Dividing the child: Social and legal dilemmas of custody. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.
  40. Beller, A., and Graham, J. Child support awards: Differences and trends by race and marital status. Demography (1986) 23:231–45.
  41. Teachman, J. Socioeconomic resources of parents and award of child support in the United States: Some explanatory models. Journal of Marriage and the Family (1990) 52:689–700.
  42. Robins, P., and Dickinson, K. Receipt of child support by single-parent families. Social Science Review (1984) 58:622–41.
  43. Teachman, J.D. Who pays? Receipt of child support in the United States. Journal of Marriage and the Family (1991) 53:759–72.
  44. Hill, M. PSID analysis of matched pairs of ex-spouses: Relation of economic resources and new family obligations to child support payments. Unpublished manuscript for the Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan.
  45. See note no. 7, Seltzer.
  46. Stack, C. All our kin. New York: Harper & Row, 1974; Teachman, J.D. Contributions to children by divorced fathers. Social Problems (1991) 38:358–71.
  47. Paasch, K., and Teachman, J. Gender of children and receipt of assistance from absent fathers. Journal of Family Issues (1991) 12:450–66.
  48. Seltzer, J., and Garfinkel, I. Inequality of divorce settlements: An investigation of property settlements and child support awards. Social Science Research (1991) 19:82–111.
  49. See note no. 2, McLinden; and Weitzman. See also Wishik, H. Economics of divorce: An exploratory study. Family Law Quarterly (1986) 22:79–107.
  50. Phillips, E., and Garfinkel, I. Income growth among nonresidential fathers: Evidence from Wisconsin. Demography (1993) 30:227–41.
  51. Garfinkel, I., Oellerich, D., and Robins, P. Child support guidelines: Will they make a difference? Journal of Family Issues (1991) 12:404–29.
  52. Gander, A. Economics and well-being of older divorced persons. Journal of Women and Aging (1991) 3:37–57; Pett, M., and Vaughan-Cole, B. The impact of income issues and social status on post-divorce adjustment of custodial parents. Family Relations (1986) 35:103–11.
  53. Blau, D. The economics of child care. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1991; Hofferth, S., and Wissoker, D. Price, quality and income in child care choice. Journal of Human Resources (1992) 27:166–203; Michalopoulos, C., Robins, P., and Garfinkel, I. A structural model of labor supply and child care demand. Journal of Human Resources (1991) 27:166–203.
  54. Bianchi, S., and McArthur, E. U.S. Bureau of the Census. Family disruption and economic hardship: The short-run picture for children. Current Population Reports, Series P-70, No. 23. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1991.
  55. McLanahan, S. Family structure and the reproduction of poverty. American Journal of Sociology (1985) 90:873–901; McLanahan, S., and Bumpass, L. Intergenerational consequences of family disruption. American Journal of Sociology (1988) 94:130–52.
  56. Furstenburg, Jr., F.F., and Cherlin, A.J. Divided families: What happens to children when parents part. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991.