Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Repartnering and (Re)employment: Strategies to Cope with the Economic Consequences of Partnership Dissolution

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Repartnering and (Re)employment: Strategies to Cope with the Economic Consequences of Partnership Dissolution

Article excerpt

The economic consequences of a partnership dissolution have been described consistently in the research literature. For women all studies indicate severe financial losses, whereas men do not experience income decreases to the same extent. This article focuses on the 2 main strategies to cope with the economic consequences of a separation: repartnering and (re)employment. Using the European Community Household Panel Study we analyzed a sample of 66,292 individuals observed in a relationship of whom 4,925 subsequently separated and assessed the (relative) effect of both strategies in a cross-national longitudinal perspective. Where men do not benefit financially from cohabiting with a new partner, repartnering proves to outweigh the benefits of reentering the labor force or increasing the working hours for most women. This especially applies to mothers.

Key Words: economic issues, family policy, growth curve analysis.

Studies examining the economic consequences of divorce have observed that especially women suffer from a decreasing level of prosperity following this event (e.g., Bianchi, Subaiya, & Kahn, 1999; McKeever & Wolfinger, 2001; Smock, 1993, 1994). Although the exact figures depend on the country under study and the measure of income, women generally experienced a net income deterioration of about 30% in the first few years after divorce. For men, on the other hand, income declines were modest or absent, with some studies even pointing to increased postdivorce income levels (for an overview, see Andreß, Borgloh, Bröckel, Giesselmann, & Hummelsheim, 2006). These observations have led scholars to focus mainly on women when studying the strategies to cope with the financial consequences of divorce.

To explain the gender gap in economic consequences of a partnership dissolution, scholars have pointed out that women are still often financially dependent on their partners because of a (full or partial) retreat from the labor force during marriage, particularly when there are children in the household. In addition, women's human capital is often lower than men's, depreciating even more when they stay at home to do the housework and care for the children. The presence of (especially young) children has a detrimental effect on women's chances on the labor market. This is especially true for separated mothers, seeing themselves forced to divide their limited time resources between child care, housework, and paid labor without a partner to rely on. Difficulties women experience when trying to reconcile work and family have been defined as the "negative child effect" (Kalmijn, 2005; Uunk, 2004) or the "child penalty" (Gornick, Meyers, & Ross, 1998; Poortman, 2000). Furthermore, judicial custody for the children often granted to the mother after divorce implies larger economic needs for the family (Drobnic, 2000; Joshi, 1998; Poortman; Raeymaeckers, Snoeckx, Dewilde, & Mortelmans, 2008; Sorensen & Hill, 2004; Uunk; Van der Lippe & van Dijk, 2002).

Unlike most studies, this contribution focuses on men as well as women. Although we agree that the mechanisms listed above still put women, in general, into a financially more vulnerable position, we do not want to lose sight of, for instance, those men who do get custody of their children after a separation. Some have argued that men also suffer economically from a separation, because of their duty to pay alimonies or the need to find other housing facilities (Aassve, Betti, Mazzuco, & Mencarini, 2007; McManus & DiPrete, 2001). By including both genders in our study, we explicitly adopt a gender perspective on the strategies to cope with the economic consequences of partnership dissolution. As such, we are able to compare the effectiveness of repartnering and (re)employment across men and women.

In this study we assess and compare the efficiency of both coping strategies in regaining predivorce income levels. Several studies point to postdivorce employment as an important buffer against economic deprivation. …

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