Women and the High Cost of Divorce
Divorce is commonly recognized as a major problem in our society. Every year there are more divorces in our country and many studies have been dedicated to finding out why. Much media attention has been paid to the court proceedings or the causes leading up to the divorce, but once the matter has lost public appeal, all coverage is dropped. Because of this, there is much that the average citizen does not know about the short-term and long-term effects of divorce. This paper examines the economic effects on all the parties involved and the discrimination in the process of divorce.
While divorce was once a relatively rare event, and one to which negative stereotype was attached, it has now become almost as regular as cloudy skies in Binghamton, NY. For the past two decades there have been more than one million divorces per year in the United States and this number is steadily rising (Arendell, 1986). There are several historical factors contributing to this trend. After WWII the service sector of the economy underwent a huge expansion, increasing the demand for women workers. As wages rose, more and more women joined the work force. This increase was often motivated by the fact that it was becoming increasingly more difficult to maintain a household on the strength of only one income. While in 1940 just under 15% of women worked outside the home, workforce participation by females increased to the point by 1960 that 32% of the workers were female. This number soared to 47% by 1992 (Kurz, 1995). This increasing labor force participation led to greater chances for self-sufficiency and made it more feasible for women to contemplate divorce. Also, these same increases in women’s wages most probably allowed more men to leave their wives knowing that their ex-partners would have a better shot at supporting themselves. The increasing number of divorces caused by these factors led to less stereotyping of divorcees, which also led to more divorce. Finally, greater acceptance of divorce prompted law changes in the 60s and 70s making it easier for couples to obtain a legal divorce. These snowballing factors have led us to the current situation.
Although it is true that it is much easier for women to find employment now than in the past, and that this increased opportunity has facilitated self-sufficiency in some cases, it is also true that most women suffer a great financial blow immediately following divorce. In fact, “divorce has become so common, and its economic effects on women are so severe, that it is now considered a major cause of poverty in the United States (Peterson, 1989).” Even if a divorced woman is able to find a job, it is unlikely that she will be able to maintain the same standard of living she is used to even if she were to have qualifications similar to the man she just divorced. This is reflected in the fact that the national average earnings...