Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Income and Life Satisfaction after Marital Disruption in Germany

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Income and Life Satisfaction after Marital Disruption in Germany

Article excerpt

Divorce in Germany and in many other countries is often instigated by the wife, even though marital disruption has much more negative economic consequences for women than for men. Both observations, however, are not necessarily a contradiction. Women may gain something that makes up for the economic loss. On the one hand, using data on income and (general) life satisfaction from the German Socio-Economic Panel Study, this article shows that negative economic changes, as measured by data on household income, are real in the sense that they are reflected in subjective assessments of economic well-being. On the other hand, these changes are relative because other aspects of life improve after marriage dissolution, and this is especially true for women.

Key Words: divorce, economic issues, income satisfaction, life satisfaction, marital separation.

Not only in Germany but also in many other Western countries, women more often than men initiate separation and divorce (for data on Germany, see Emmerling, 2005; for the United States, see, e.g., Braver, Whitley, & Ng, 1993; Brinig & Alien, 2000). Some people think that this fact contradicts many studies on household income that show women as the financial losers of marital dissolution. Both observations, however, are not necessarily a contradiction. They can be a result of ignorance (women do not know the economic consequences), invalid income measurements (overestimated financial losses for women), or the multidimensionality of divorce motives (women gain something that makes up for the economic loss). The following analysis adds to this discussion and has two goals: First, we check the validity of previous research on the negative economic consequences of divorce for women by comparing data on disposable household income and subjective assessments of economic well-being for the same individuals. second, we study whether possible noneconomic gains of divorce are visible for women using the same survey data.

There is abundant evidence on the negative economic consequences of marital disruption for women and their (dependent) children. A summary of many studies conducted in the United States and Canada can be found in McKeever and Wolfinger (2001) and Andreß, Borgloh, Giillner, and Wilking (2003, pp. 38 - 39). Similar results have been found in Sweden (Fritzell, 1990; Gähler, 1998), the Netherlands (Poortman, 2001), Great Britain (Jarvis & Jenkins, 1999), Canada (Finnic, 1993), and Germany (AndreB et al., 2003; Burkhauser, Duncan, Hauser, & Berntsen, 1990, 1991; DiPrete & McManus, 2000; Schwarze & Harpfer, 2000). This body of evidence has contributed to the common belief that divorce is not only connected with grief and anger but is also a financial disaster, especially for women and children. But obviously, as high divorce rates in most Western industrialized countries show, this does not prevent people from dissolving their marriages. In fact, the economic losers in the divorce, the women, are the ones who more often than their male partners initiate the dissolution process. It seems as if the data on economic consequences of divorce tell only one part of the story, leaving an overly negative impression disproportionately affecting women. We would expect the initiators of divorce to have at least something to gain; otherwise, they would not have dissolved the marriage. Perhaps these noneconomic gains are in favor of the women. Hetherington and Kelly (2002), for example, after examining nearly 1,400 families for more than three decades, concluded that

"men-as-divorce-winners may be the biggest myth about divorce" (p. 8). She found that women did better emotionally after divorce than men did. They were less likely to mope and feel sorry for themselves and also less likely to continue to pine for a former spouse. Women were better at building a new social network of friends and at finding ways to assuage their pain. And while the economic disparity between men and women following divorce continues to be great, [. …

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