The Consequences Of Divorce For Mothers And Fathers: Unequal But Converging?

TitleThe Consequences Of Divorce For Mothers And Fathers: Unequal But Converging?
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsKessler, D
JournalLIVES Working Paper
ISSNISSN 2296-1658
Keywordschange, divorce, happiness, income, well-being

If families adhere to a male breadwinner model, mothers and fathers accumulate different kinds of resources. On one hand, this implies that divorces have different consequences for mothers and fathers. While a divorce translates mothers’ low career investments into greater economic consequences for them, fathers suffer more emotionally due to deteriorations of the relationships with their children. On the other hand, the consequences of divorce converge between mothers and fathers over time as gender roles become more egalitarian. For the context of Switzerland, this study tests whether a) divorce leads to greater declines in economic well-being for mothers than for fathers, b) whether mothers report smaller declines in emotional well-being than fathers and c) whether or not these patterns were stable between a cohort of parents who divorced in the 1990s and a cohort of parents who divorced between 2009 and 2013.
The study draws on cross-sectional Swiss surveys that asked respondents about their incomes, emotional well-being and partnership histories. I measured the effects of divorce by comparing parents who recently divorced from their first spouse with balanced samples of parents who are still married in their first marriage. The results suggest that in both cohorts, on average, mothers experience greater declines in available incomes as a result of divorce than fathers and that mothers and fathers suffer similar declines in emotional well-being. Hence, confirming the crucial role of the type of resources for the consequences of divorce, divorced fathers have an advantage over divorced mothers in available income but not in emotional well-being. Potential explanations for the historical stability of such results despite divorced mothers’ greater labor market participation and the introduction of shared legal custody are mothers’ increases in lowly paid part- time work, a stable low share of divorce children living with their fathers and fewer adult alimony orders.