The economic consequences of divorce in six OECD countries

The economic consequences of divorce in six OECD countries

David de Vaus, Matthew Gray, Lixia Qu and David Stanton

Research Report No. 31 — March 2015
The economic consequences of divorce in six OECD countries

This report presents a cross-national comparison of the short- and medium-term economic effects of divorce.

Estimates for men and women are derived from longitudinal data from Australia, Germany, Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

It details how the main sources of income for women change following divorce, and the relative contribution of these sources. The findings show that though divorce has a negative effect on the equivalised household incomes of women in all of these countries, the extent and duration of these negative effects differ markedly between the nations.

The report concludes by briefly considering the possible causes of these differences.

Key messages

In all of the countries studied divorce had, on average, negative effects on the equivalised household incomes of women. However, the extent and duration of the negative effects of divorce differed markedly between countries.

In all of the study countries, the effect of divorce on the equivalised household income of men was smaller than the effect on women in terms of post-separation income relative to pre-separation income and the income it would have been had they remained married.

Although, using the available data, it is not possible to definitely explain the differences between countries, the analysis presented in this paper provides some insights.

The average economic effects of divorce, particularly for women, are heavily influenced by the social security, labour market, family model and family law systems of each country.

While the social security system and institutional arrangements such as child support and spousal maintenance do influence women’s post-divorce economic outcomes, women’s labour market earnings and the extent to which re-partnering occurs represents the most important force explaining cross-country differences.

Authors and Acknowledgements

Professor David de Vaus is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies and Emeritus Professor in the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, University of Queensland. Professor Matthew Gray is Director, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, and Research Director, College of Arts and Social Sciences, at the Australian National University. Dr Lixia Qu is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. David Stanton is a Visiting Fellow, Policy and Governance, Crawford School of Public Policy, at the Australian National University.


Previous versions of this report were presented at the 2013 Foundation for International Studies on Social Security Conference, Sigtuna, Sweden, the 2013 International Child Support Conference held at the Australian National University, Canberra and the 2014 Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference, Melbourne. The authors are grateful to participants at these conferences for helpful comments on the research.

Publication details

Research Report
No. 31
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, March 2015.
19 pp.
ISSN: 
1477-1477
ISBN: 
978-1-76016-008-1
Suggested citation:

de Vaus, D., Gray, M., Qu, L., & Stanton, D. (2015). The economic consequences of divorce in six OECD countries (Research Report No. 31). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

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