The Cost of Divorce

Women Pay the Highest Price

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By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, SEPT. 7, 2012 (Zenit.org).- “Families are the building blocks of society, facilitating generational renewal, human interaction, and linking individuals to wider society as a whole.” These aren’t words from a Catholic Church document, but the introduction to a study on marriage published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics back in April.

“Relationships are closely linked with wellbeing, with families playing a key role in socialising children and shaping the future of society,” the report stated.

More recently another Australian government body, the Australian Institute of Family Studies, published the results of a study that found household income after divorce declined for women but not for men.

According to the July 24 media release the research found that some women were able to get back to their previous income level after some six years by means of a mix of finding a new partner, increased labour force participation, and an increased proportion of income coming from government benefits.

However, Australian Institute of Family Studies Director Professor Alan Hayes said this is not the case for divorced women with dependent children.

“Divorced women with dependent children found it difficult to recover their income post-divorce. We know from other research that sole mothers with dependent children experienced difficulties combining paid work and family responsibilities with less support,” he said.

Australian Institute of Family Studies Senior Research Fellow Dr Lixia Qu said more Australians will experience divorce in the future and this has longterm financial implications for them and the Australian income support system, the press release explained.

“Divorce has a big impact on both men and women whose assets continue to fall behind married households and this impacts significantly on retirement income for divorced men and women who remained single, making them more reliant on government support to get by,” she said.

The joint research by the Australian National University, Queensland University and the Australian Institute of Family Studies drew on data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Study involving nearly 7,700 households and 14,000 household members from 2001 to 2010.

Growing inequality

The economic disparities caused by family backgrounds was the theme of a July 14 article in the New York Times. It noted that debates over income inequality have tended to focus on blue collar wages versus the high salaries for those in the finance industry.

“But striking changes in family structure have also broadened income gaps and posed new barriers to upward mobility,” the article said.

Less educated women, either divorced or single parents, are increasingly at a disadvantage compared to college-education intact families.

“Long a nation of economic extremes, the United States is also becoming a society of family haves and family have-nots, with marriage and its rewards evermore confined to the fortunate classes,” the article said.

Earlier in the year, on March 16, the Family Research Council released a study titled, "The Divorce Revolution Perpetually Reduces U.S. Economic Growth: Divorce Removes a Fourth of Head-of-Household Productivity Growth."

The paper was authored by Henry Potrykus and Patrick Fagan, both of them involved in the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, which is a project of the Family Research Council.

While the Australian research showed that divorced men end up better than their ex-wives the American study revealed that even for men there is a significant financial cost involved in family break-up.

"Marriage causes economic growth,” Potrykus said. “Married men experience greater rates of income increase than single men, and the rate of income increase for a newly divorced man drops almost to that of his always-single counterparts through the divorce,” he explained.

“The divorce revolution has undermined growth in the U.S. economy,” he added.

Slowing growth

"Besides population effects originating in the 1960s and 1970s, there are no other consequences of policy change that have had a greater effect in slowing economic growth than the divorce revolution," Potrykus affirmed.

Married men, the paper stated, earn substantially more than single men, and more than divorced men.

Is there a selection effect, the authors asked, with higher earners choosing less risky marriages? This is not the case they found. “Pre-divorce, divorced men are not less productive than other married men,” the paper stated.

“Divorced men become less productive through divorce,” their research found.

Marriage, the study concluded, “is a stable, assured causal agent of economic growth,” and divorce has had a severe impact on this agent for growth.

In past decades the rate of divorce has tripled and reduced the husbands’ productivity increases as much as one fourth or one third, and thereby hurt the national economy.

“Marriage and family breakdown is one of the most destructive scourges of our time,” declared Sir Paul Coleridge, a British High Court judge who sits in the family division, earlier this year when he announced the foundation of the Family Foundation.

If government agencies, independent organizations, the New York Times and judges can all agree that stable married families are the best for society then one can only wonder why governments do not take steps to encourage marriage.