Financial living standards after divorce

Financial living standards after divorce

A recent snapshot

Bruce Smyth and Ruth Weston

Research Paper No. 23 — December 2000

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A decade or so ago, mothers (and their children) in Australia were found to be at an economic disadvantage after divorce compared with fathers. Since the late 1980s, however, significant social and economic change may have improved the financial living standards of divorced women relative to divorced men. This change includes the introduction of the Child Support Scheme and substantial increases in government income support in tandem with the increasing availability of part-time and casual jobs for women.

Accordingly, several questions suggest themselves: Is there still a clear disparity between the post-divorce equivalent household incomes of men and women? Which family types are most likely to be in poverty post-separation? Does child support help to protect children from economic disadvantage, without compromising the economic wellbeing of payers? Does the subjective appraisal of financial circumstances map objective circumstances? While these questions are of significant import for family law and income-support policy, scant information specific to the divorce transition is available to answer them.

The data presented in this research paper are drawn from the Australian Divorce Transition Project, a random national telephone survey of divorced Australians. This survey, conducted in late 1997 by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, sought to measure, among other things, the household income of post-divorce family units. On average, respondents had been separated for about six years.

On the basis of these data, two conclusions drawn from early Institute work continue to hold: in general, women and children are more likely than men to experience financial hardship after divorce; and repartnering remains a key way out of financial difficulties for many divorced women (and their children). 

Authors and Acknowledgements

First and foremost, we would like to thank the hundreds of respondents who volunteered much personal information about themselves and their post-divorce circumstances. Most respondents did so in the hope that this information would make a difference to the lives of others.

We would also like to acknowledge the late Dr Kathleen Funder, who was responsible for the conceptualisation and development of the Australian Divorce Transitions Project, on which this study is based.

We are indebted to Ann Harding, Anthony King and Alison McClelland for their comments on drafts of this paper. Several Institute colleagues also provided useful criticism and encouragement, particularly Belinda Fehlberg, Matthew Gray, Peter Saunders, Grania Sheehan and David Stanton, and we are also grateful to Jody Hughes for the voluminous amount of SPSS code that she wrote for key components of the dataset. We, of course, take full responsibility for any shortcomings in the paper.

Publication details

Research Paper
No. 23
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, December 2000.
33 pp.
0 642 39485 7
Suggested citation:

Smyth, B., & Weston, R. (2000). Financial living standards after divorce: A recent snapshot (Research Paper No. 23). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

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