Family Size and the Persistency of Poverty following Divorce: The United States in Comparative Perspective

Download Publication (PDF)

Studies have documented the negative association between divorce and women’s economic wellbeing in several countries. Less is known about whether the effects of divorce on women’s economic wellbeing vary by family size and their persistency. However, larger families are likely more vulnerable to the economic consequences of divorce, and more children are exposed to these consequences in larger families. We present the first comprehensive assessment of how the short-term and medium-term economic consequences of divorce vary by family size. Using data from the US (PSID) and between-within random-effects models, we estimate changes in women’s poverty risk up to six years following divorce, stratified by the number of children in the household in the year of divorce. We add a comparative perspective using a harmonized set of socio-economic panel surveys from Australia (HILDA), Germany (GSOEP), Switzerland (SHP), and the UK (BHPS). In the US, short-term negative effects of divorce on the risk of poverty increase with family size, but differences vanish in the medium term. Similar trends are found in all study countries, although family size differences are larger in Germany and the US than in Australia, Switzerland, and the UK. Our findings suggest that the presence and number of children increase women’s poverty risk only temporarily. Although women with children are less likely to recuperate by means of remarriage, they are more likely to recuperate by reducing the needs of the household and increasing their labor market intensity.