Academic journal article Population

Changes in Labour Market Status Surrounding Union Dissolution in France

Academic journal article Population

Changes in Labour Market Status Surrounding Union Dissolution in France

Article excerpt

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Union dissolutions (excluding widowhood) have been increasing in most developed countries for the past thirty years or so. The abundant international literature on the economic consequences of divorce has highlighted differences between separated men and women, particularly in terms of living standards. In France, the total divorce rate(1) per 100 marriages rose from 11 to 45.1 between 1950 and 2008, not counting dissolutions of non-marital unions, an increasingly common form of partnership. While France is no exception to this trend, studies on its economic effects are still rare.

The information available on France, based on European comparisons, shows that divorced women in France experience one of the sharpest falls in equivalent income(2) after separation, just behind the United Kingdom (Uunk, 2004). Women's median income decreases by an estimated 32% (36% in the United Kingdom) in the year following divorce. These results must be viewed with caution, however, given the small sample sizes for each country.

As pointed out by recent studies (van Damme et al., 2009; Covizzi, 2008), the literature has so far focused on the impact of union dissolution on living standards, but less often on the way it affects labour supply, although the two are obviously linked. Labour market participation makes it possible to make up, in part, for the loss of the partner's income and to reduce dependence on public transfers.

Studying changes in occupational trajectories after union dissolution, and comparing differences between men's and women's trajectories in particular, is important for two reasons. The first pertains to the occupational choices that may have been made during the relationship and to a possible withdrawal of one of the partners from the labour market. Unions often entail a growing specialization during the life cycle, with the career of one partner taking precedence as family constraints intensify. While such specialization can be justified for economic reasons, at least in theory, the end of the contract between spouses constituted by divorce raises the problem of the potential return to the labour market of the spouse who is partially or totally specialized in the domestic sphere. Owing to the unequal division of roles between spouses, it is still most often the woman who leaves the labour market or reduces her working hours. Divorced women could thus be doubly penalized. First, like other women, they experience greater difficulty in returning to the labour force due to breaks in their working careers during their marital life, such as maternity leave, parental leave, and part-time working. Second, they have weekday custody of their children more often and/or for a longer period after the separation, particularly when the children are young, and this can make it harder for mothers to find work if they are living alone.

The second reason - an extension of the first - concerns the persistent effect of occupational transitions on the rest of the life cycle. Choices made at a given moment affect the later stages of a career and, ultimately, pension rights. The impact of children on a working career is partly taken into account in the calculation of pension rights via a system of pension bonuses that compensates for certain gender inequalities (Conseil d'Orientation des Retraites, 2008). The way in which union dissolution alters occupational trajectories could also be examined in terms of its repercussions on pension rights and on gender equity. But this would require information on occupational changes caused by separations.

Our article aims to study the labour supply dynamics of persons undergoing a separation. We have chosen to concentrate on a narrow window of time: the year before separation and the two years following it. A longer post-separation horizon may cause other phenomena to interfere, such as repartnering (Dewilde and Uunk, 2008) or variations in economic conditions. …

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