Losers and Winners: The Financial Consequences of Separation and Divorce for Men

by Patricia A. McManus, Thomas A. DiPrete
Losers and Winners: The Financial Consequences of Separation and Divorce for Men
Patricia A. McManus, Thomas A. DiPrete
American Sociological Review
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Indiana University Duke University

Contrary to conventional thinking, the majority of partnered men in the United States lose economic status when their unions dissolve. Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, this analysis shows that for most men the primary source of economic decline after union dissolution is their inability to fully compensate for the loss of their partner S income. A secondary source of economic decline is an increase in compulsory and voluntary support payments. Welfare state tax and trans-

fer mechanisms have a much smaller overall impact on changes in men's living

standards following separation. Although most men experience a decline in living

standards following union dissolution, men S outcomes are heterogeneous, and the

minority of men who relied on their partners for less than one-fifth of pre-dissolu-

tion income typically gain from separation and divorce. The data show a clear trend

toward greater economic interdependence in American partnerships, and this trend

appears to increase the proportion of men who suffer a reduced standard of living

following separation.

ALARGE body of research has estab- lished that marital disruption has a substantial negative impact on women's standard of living, and that this impact is worse for women than for men (Bianchi, McArthur, and Hill 1989; Burkhauser et al. 1990, 1991; Duncan and Hoffman 1985; Hoffman 1977; Smock 1993, 1994; Smock, Manning and Gupta 1999; for a review, see Holden and Smock 1991). Gender inequal- ity in the economic consequences of divorce

Direct correspondence to Patricia McManus, Department of Sociology, Indiana University, Ballantine Hall 744, 1020 E. Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47405-7 103 (pmcmanus @ indiana.edu). This research was supported in part by National Science Foundation grant NSF-SBR- 96-31944. Karen Segar provided assistance with data preparation. We thank Frances Goldscheider, participants in the Political and Eco- nomic Sociology Workshop at Indiana Univer- sity, and the ASR Editors and anonymous review- ers for providing helpful comments on early drafts. The data used in this study were made available to us by the Cross-National Equivalent File (CNEF) project at the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.

and its implications for the well-being of children who experience a parental divorce (Duncan and Brooks-Gunn 1997; McLana- han and Sandefur 1994) contribute to the heated public debate on divorce reform. Feminist scholars and commentators who defend no-fault divorce laws nonetheless condemn this gender disparity as "unconscionable for a legal system and a society committed to fairness, justice and equality"

(Weitzman 1996:538, emphasis in original; also see Bradford 1997; DiTullio 1997; Faludi 1991).

Though Weitzman's (1985) well-publi- cized claim that women lose three-quarters of their previous standard of living while men gain over 40 percent has been proven erroneous (Peterson 1996), the assertion that men gain from divorce is still part of the con- ventional wisdom about marital dissolution

(e.g. DiTullio 1997; Morrison and Ritualo 2000; Smock et al. 1999). Yet while there is overwhelming evidence supporting the view that women's standard of living declines- often precipitously-following separation or divorce, the financial impact on men is less well understood. Studies relying primarily on

246 AMERICAN REVIEW,200 1, VOL. 66 (A~~1~:246-268)

data from the 1970s "decade of divorce" gen- erally found that men lost a small share of their nominal income and enjoyed an in- crease in their standard of living following divorce or separation (Duncan and Hoffman 1985; Hoffman 1977; SQrensen 1992). But findings from more recent evidence are less uniform. Two studies report post-disruption declines in men's living standards, or mixed results depending on the equivalence scale used to calculate changes in standard of liv- ing (Burkhauser et al. 1990, 1991). Another study finds substantial gains in economic well-being among separating men, but limits the scope of the study to noncustodial fathers (Bianchi, Subaiya and Kahn 1999). Two re- cent studies also find gains in per capita in- come for separating men, but these studies limit the scope to men who were married to young women and do not report changes in living standards using conventional equiva- lence scales (Smock 1993, 1994).

We believe it is time to reassess the finan- cial consequences of union dissolution for men. The disparity between early research and some recent research may indicate a temporal shift in the financial consequences of union dissolution for men. More impor- tant, recent research suggests a great deal of heterogeneity in these consequences. Recent demographic trends, including the decline in marital fertility, the rise in cohabitation, and the increase in stepfamily households, all contribute to an increasing diversity of couple-headed households. The rise in women's labor force participation and the decline in the gender gap in earnings (Bernhardt, Morris, and Handcock 1995) have increased women's economic contribu- tions to the household, especially during the 1980s (Hayghe 1993). More than ever be- fore, men face the risk that separation will impose a substantial financial burden in the form of the loss of partner's income. At the same time, fathers may be assuming a larger role in the post-disruption financial support of their children than was the case during the 1970s. National efforts to reform and en- force child-support decrees, along with a gradual increase in the rate of paternal and

joint physical custody of children (Garfinkel et al. 1998), suggest that fathers may be less likely to realize substantial material gains from separation and divorce.

An understanding of the financial after- math of union dissolution for men requires knowledge of the mechanisms that contrib-

1 ute to change in economic status. Men's out- comes depend not only on changes in house- hold composition and the loss of partner's income, but also on the extent to which state welfare policy-via tax and transfer pro- grams-targets family formation and disso- lution. Men's outcomes also depend on the characteristics of American family law (in- cluding enforcement practices) that affect the size of mandatory support payments to the ex-partner or to children. Finally, men's outcomes are affected by "voluntary" cash payments to their former partners (Edin and Lein 1997). Despite the potential importance of these mechanisms in determining men's economic status following separation, only a handful of studies address the impact of the welfare state (Burkhauser et al. 1990, 1991), and a few more take compulsory fam- ily-support payments into account (Bianchi et al. 1999; Burkhauser et al. 1990, 1991; Duncan and Hoffman 1985; Smock 1994). These studies, however, are hampered either by inadequate coverage of the population of separating men (e.g., by restricting the study to noncustodial fathers), or by the use of in- sufficiently broad measures of post-separa- tion transfers. The analyses presented here provide the first comprehensive and systematic assess- ment of the impact of market and nonmarket mechanisms on men's financial outcomes following union dissolution. They are de- signed to answer the following questions: (1) Do men typically experience an increase or a decrease in their standard of living follow- ing separation? (2) Is the economic impact of separation fairly uniform across men, or is there substantial heterogeneity in their outcomes? (3) How is the economic impact of separation on men structured by market, welfare state, legal, and voluntaristic level- ing mechanisms?

Men are often seen as economic winners in a separation scenario in which material re- sources and financial obligations are un- equally distributed between the two ex-part- ners. But any potential economic windfall from separation is likely to be leveled by mechanisms that have gained strength in re- cent decades. Shifts in the labor market have reduced married and cohabiting men's share of household income, and thereby raised the cost of exit. Men's potential gains are often further reduced by tax and social welfare policies, by compulsory child support and alimony payments, and by informal support to members of the former family.

The presumption that men reap financial re- wards in the aftermath of shedding their families is partly rooted in the "specializa- tion and trading model" (Becker 1981; Oppenheimer 1997), which arguably is the most prominent contemporary model for marriage. This model conceptualizes the married couple as a production and bargain- ing unit in which, for biological reasons, the female partner has a comparative advantage in household production, while the male part- ner has a comparative advantage in paid la- bor. According to this model, the partners specialize in gender-specific tasks and then trade the product of their labor to maximize their joint well-being. It seems obvious that a male breadwinner who kept his job while separating from his homemaker partner would be materially better off, though at the cost of doing more housework (Gupta 1999). Because of the specialization-induced finan- cial risk, the wife demands a marriage con- tract to protect herself from possible malfea- sance by her partner.

As Oppenheimer (1997) points out, com- plete gender-role specialization is a high-risk strategy for both partners and is not typical of contemporary American households. In- stead, American men and women generally share in the market provision for the house- hold. Men typically earn more than their fe- male partners, and the partner with greater economic strength is likely to have a com- parative financial advantage following any separation. But relative market advantages are imprecise tools for assessing the absolute financial impact of an event as costly as separation, which can easily produce a de- cline in the living standards of both former partners (SGrensen 1994). When the pre- separation income is split across two new households, the loss of economies of scale means that the joint economic status of the separated partners is lower than it would be if they shared the costs of maintaining a single household. We expect that the loss of partner's market income is the primary mechanism for reducing men's economic status following union dissolution.

Welfare state tax and transfer policy takes marital status and household composition into account, ostensibly providing preferen- tial treatment to families. In fact, the well- publicized "marriage penalty" imposed on many dual-earner couples obscures the fact that, at least through the mid-1990s, the ma- jority of married couples paid lower federal income taxes than they would have if they were single (U.S. Congressional Budget Of- fice 1997). As another example, low-income men who separate from their families stand to lose benefits (e.g., food stamps) that are contingent on both household income and household size. We expect state policy to buffer income lost to men with low pre-sepa- ration shares of household income, and to level the incomes of men with the highest pre-separation income shares.



Post-separation household income can also be reduced by court-ordered family-support payments. Noncustodial parents are subject to compulsory child-support payments, and in rare instances the financially weaker part- ner may also win redress in the form of a spousal support award. Noncustodial parents are overwhelmingly male, and alimony pay- ments flow almost exclusively from men to women. We expect compulsory transfers to reduce men's incomes, more so for men who provided the bulk of the couple's pre-disrup- tion income.


Separation and divorce do not invariably sever informal financial ties between men

and their children and former partners. Sometimes informal transfers are an expres- sion of personal responsibility for kinship obligations that are perceived to outlast the partnership. Such transfers can also be seen as an indirect response to the specific char- acter of the American welfare state. High-in- come fathers may supplement compulsory support payments or provide additional di- rect support to children who have moved out of the mother's household. Ethnographic studies of low-income fathers suggest that many who are not paying compulsory sup- port may help out informally, perhaps as part of a tacit economic bargain (Edin and Lein 1997; Sullivan 1989). Edin and Lein (1997) found, for example, that AFDC mothers in their sample received more money from the fathers through informal (covert) support payments than through the formal child-sup- port system. Whatever their explanation, noncompulsory money transfers to former partners and children who no longer live in the household will reduce any financial gains from divorce or separation.

Following previous research, we measure economic growth among men who at time t were married or in a long-term cohabiting union by comparing annual household in- come or standard of living (income adjusted for household size) in the previous calendar year (t -1) to annual household income two years later (t + 1). We define the short-term economic impact of union dissolution as the difference at time t + 1 between economic change for men who separated from their partners and men who remained in intact unions. While our primary focus is on the short-term consequences, we also present selected results for a four-year economic change-between one year before and three years after the last intact interview (i.e., be- tween t -1 and t + 3). We report results separately for white men and African Ameri- can men.

Our analysis includes results for change in men's nominal income, but our chief inter- est is change in men's living standards. While no single measure of living standards has won universal acceptance, measures based on plausible assumptions about house- hold consumption patterns give similar re- sults for our question. Some of our tables re- port results using alternative living standard measures; other tables rely on a single mea- sure that produces relatively optimistic esti- mates of the economic consequences of

1 separation for men. We assess the economic consequences of


separation in several ways. We use regres- sion models and other statistical strategies to estimate the actual economic impact of sepa- ration. Next, we use the full sample of mar- ried and cohabiting men to simulate the potential economic impact of separation for men with different household arrangements. The median values from the simulations are then compared to the actual outcomes among men who separated in order to better under- stand the typical pattern of men's behavioral responses to separation. We also assess the relative impact of market and nonmarket mechanisms by measuring economic change both before and after taking account of taxes, public transfers, compulsory support pay- ments, and other private transfers.

Data for this paper are from the 1980-1993 waves of the Panel Study of Income Dynam- ics (PSID) and the income measures are from the Cross-National Equivalent File (Wagner, Burkhauser, and Behringer 1993).' The PSID collects data from sample mem- bers on an annual basis, typically in the spring of the survey year. Respondents are asked about marital status and household composition at the time of the survey as well as changes from the previous survey. Exten- sive information is collected on individual

' The income measures on the Cross-National Equivalent File (CNEF) are constructed by aug- menting the detailed income components in the PSID data with two components not available in the source data, namely the imputed rental value of owner-occupied housing and imputed payroll and income taxes, calculated using the National Bureau of Economic Research's TAXSIM routine. We use the CNEF pre-government and post- government income measures in our analyses, along with additional measures of post-support income constructed by combining the CNEF measures with information on support payments from the source data.

and household income flows during the pre- vious calendar year. Our sample includes observations on men between the ages of 18 and 65 who identified themselves as either white or black (we excluded others because samvle sizes are too small) and who were partners in couple-headed households. Mar- ried men were included if they lived with their spouse at time t. Men who were cohab- iting with a female partner were included if the same partner was in the household at time t -land time t.2 The analysis sample excludes unions that were dissolved through death or institutionalization between times t and t + 1.

To be included in the sample, men who were observed in unions at time t had to be followed for the next two interviews, at time t + 1, by which time a disruption may or may not have occurred, and it time t + 2 when income data is collected retrospec- tively for the previous calendar year. Sepa- ration is associated with a high risk of sample attrition among men in panel data

(D. Hill 1997; M. Hill 1992; Fitzgerald, Gottschalk, and Moffitt 1998), and this risk is particularly high for men with unstable work histories (Fitzgerald et al. 1998). Our sample is therefore likely to underrepresent men with the worst economic outcomes fol- lowing separation, and to overrepresent men who pay child support. However, a recent study of attrition bias in the PSID found that the appropriate use of sample weights in re- gression analyses produces consistent esti- mates despite the high levels of attrition (Fitzgerald et al. 1998). To adjust for these unequal probabilities of sample selection and attrition, we assigned each respondent a single longitudinal weight equal to the cross- sectional weight attached to that respondent in the final year in which the respondent contributed to the data.

Our regression model for the average im- pact of union dissolution can be derived as follows. Let yi, equal household economic status at time t, and let xi,be a vector of vari-

We include only cohabitants in long-term unions because the PSID prorates the income of the cohabiting partner to reflect the actual num- ber of months spent in the same household, but does not prorate the income of new marital part- ners.

ables that affect household economic status, so that

In yit= X$ + (1)

If we difference this model at two points in time, and if we collect all changes related to union dissolution and repartnering into dummy variables D and R, we obtain

where yi,f-lis a measure of economic status at time t -1, Axiis the subset of control vari- ables that change in value between t -1 and t + 1, D is an indicator for union disruption between t -1 and t + 1, and R is an indica- tor for a new partner between t -1 and t + 1. (To achieve greater clarity, we have sup- pressed explicit subscripts for calendar time on the right side of equation 2.) Equation 2 assumes that change in economic status does not depend on the level of economic status at time t -1. Because this assumption may not be correct, we estimated a slightly more complex specification that relaxes this as- sumption:

Because pre-disruption income might be correlated with other factors affecting in- come change, we estimated this equation using standard instrumental variables tech- niques (Greene 2000). One set of valid in- struments for equation 3 includes the con- trol variables in equation 1, whose values were constant over time and thus do not ap- pear in the difference equation because they cancel out of the right-hand side (e.g., ques- tions about men's education are generally asked only at the initial interview in the PSID, so Ax = 0 for schooling). An alterna- tive strategy is to find instruments that do not appear at all in equation 1, such as in- come at time t -2. We applied these two strategies in turn to estimate instrumental variables models, using education and twice-lagged income as the respective in- struments. The results from these two esti- mation strategies were similar, and we re- port the instrumental variables estimates us- ing the twice-lagged income measure.

To minimize the impact of outliers, we truncated the dependent variable to the range [-2,2], effectively capping losses at 86.5 percent and capping gains at 639 percent of pre-disruption income or living ~tandards.~ Our final models include control variables for change in job tenure, for age (if age en- ters the level model as a quadratic, it remains as a linear predictor in the difference model), dummy variables for calendar year, and the indicator for new partner at time t + 1. To simplify the presentation of results, we re- port only the coefficient and standard error for D, the indicator for union disruption. We also report the economic impact of disrup- tion, which equals exp(yD) -1.

We used the following measures of house- hold income (all adjusted to 1990 dollars us- ing the Consumer Price Index [CPI-U]) as our dependent variables:

This is our measure of "gross income," and equals the combined earned income received by all household members from all employ- ment (including wages, salaries, farm in- come, business income, income from market gardening, and income from roomers and boarders), assets, and private transfers (in- cluding alimony and child support) before taxes and government transfers. It also in- cludes the imputed rental value of housing.

HOUSEHOLD COME, This equals the sum of household in-

The untruncated results produce much more negative estimates of the average impact of union dissolution because they are strongly influenced by those separating men who suffer precipitous income declines between time t -1 and time t + I. We experimented with alternative mea- sures that minimize the influence of these outli- ers, including a measure based on Duncan and Hoffman (1985) that placed a floor of $3,000 on nominal income levels. The results for net in- come using this measure were similar to those presented here; however, the income floor ob- scured important nuances in the specific mecha- nisms that structured income change.

come after income taxes (including state in- come taxes and the Earned Income Tax Credit), payroll taxes (health, unemploy- ment, and retirement), and public transfers. Public transfers include AFDC, SSI, and other "welfare" programs, Social Security, unemployment compensation, worker's com- pensation, and the face value of food stamps.

HOUSEHOLD COME AFTER SUPPORT PAYMENTS. Respondents in all survey years report the total amount of money paid during the previous calendar year toward the support of persons outside the household, including voluntary out-transfers and mandatory support pay- ments. We subtracted this total support amount from household post-government in- come to create a measure of "net" household income. Beginning in 1985, respondents who reported paying support were then probed specifically for child-support and ali- mony paymenk4 We used these data to cre- ate an additional measure of household in- come that subtracts only these compulsory family-support payments from household post-government income, thus allowing us to distinguish these compulsory payments from any additional support paid on an informal or voluntary basis for the later subsample. Any missing data on support payments were imputed to be zero.

Some caution is necessary when dealing with men's reports of support payments. Pre- vious research has shown that divorced men who pay child support report higher levels of transfers than their former wives report receiving (Braver, Fitzpatrick, and Bay 1991; Peters et al. 1993; Schaeffer, Seltzer and Klawitter 1991), and when third-party verification is available (e.g., when the

The wording of this sequence from the 1993 interview is as follows:

G103. In 1992, did you give any money toward the support of anyone who was not living with you at the time?

G106. How much money was that altogether in


G107. Was any of that child support?

G108. How much did that child support amount to in 1992? G109. Was any of the money you gave in 1992 ali- mony? G110. How much did that alimony amount to in 1992?

courts administer the collection and distribu- tion of support payments) the wives' reports correspond more closely to the third-party reports (Schaeffer et al. 1991). Part of the discrepancy between ex-partners' reports of money transfers may come about because payers and recipients are likely to hold dif- ferent views on what constitutes support. Those who pay support may be inclined to report all expenditures on their children and former partners, including court-ordered tu- ition and health care payments as well as in- formal transfers, gifts, and loans, while re- cipients may be inclined to define support as compliance with court-ordered cash trans- fers (Schaeffer et al. 1991). Reporting dis- crepancies can also come about when men pay support to children from earlier liaisons in addition to the children residing with their most recent ex-partner. Even taking these factors into account, men who fail to com- ply fully with court-ordered support have strong incentives to exaggerate support pay- ments. Published reports suggest that men overreport by as little as 13.5 percent (Schaeffer et al. 1991) to as much as 27 percent (Braver et al. 1991).

Using these data, supplemented with the preliminary PSID data for 1994-1996, we compared transfers paid by men to transfers received by women for a small number of couples (N = 58) in which complete infor- mation on alimony and child-support trans- fers was obtained from both ex-partners at the interview following the separation. We also used unmatched data to compare reports of transfers received by custodial mothers to reports of transfers paid by noncustodial fa- thers in the first year following separation. Our findings concur with previous research: The proportion of men who claimed to have paid support was only slightly higher than the proportion of women who claimed that they received support, but men's reports of the amounts transferred exceeded women's reports by 15 to 30 percent.

To provide a reasonable set of bounds for the effects of transfers on living standards, we rely on alternative assumptions to con- struct two measures of post-transfer income. Our unadjusted measure assumes that men report payments accurately. Our adjusted measure deflates reported payments by one- third, (i.e., it assumes that men exaggerate the amount of support they paid by 50 per- cent, an amount that exceeds current esti- mates of overreporting based on available e~idence).~

We report results based on the adjusted measure of support along with re- sults based on men's actual reports.

Nominal income is an important indicator of the economic status of a household, but an imprecise measure of living standards. Economies of scale are important to the esti- mation of changes in men's standard of liv- ing following separation because separation entails not only a change in income, but also a change in household composition. Nomi- nal income change would correspond per- fectly with change in living standards only if economies of scale were infinite, that is, if it cost no more to shelter, clothe, and feed a family of four or six than it does to provide for a single-person household. Clearly this is not true.

Zero economies of scale, in contrast, would imply that it costs twice as much to provide for a couple as for an individual, four times as much to provide for a family of four, and so on. If there were no scale economies, living standards could be deter- mined by dividing income by the number of persons in the household, and change in per capita income would correspond perfectly with change in living standards. However, the assumption of zero economies of scale is as implausible as the assumption of infinite scale economies.

When plausible assumptions about scale economies are used to adjust household in- come by a weight based on the number of "scale equivalents" in the household, the re- sulting estimates of changes in living stan- dards are well within these two extremes. There is no agreement on a single equiva- lency scale, however, and the choice of scale is more consequential for analyses of men's outcomes than for analyses of women's out-

We also constructed an adjusted measure that randomly assigns one-third of all reported trans- fer payments to zero, leaving the remaining mea- sures as reported. Results based on this measure were nearly the same as the results we report.

comes following separation. This is because the estimates produced by different scales are more likely to diverge for the financially stronger partner in a union, and the estimates are also more likely to diverge when there is a large change in household size.

We rely primarily on two equivalency scales in our analyses: One is the "Expended Linear Extension System" (ELES) weights, a total consumption-based scale developed by Merz et al. (1993) that assumes moderate economies of scale for small households and large scale economies for large households. The other is a food-based scale computed using U.S. Census poverty thresholds. The poverty scale takes the adultlchild composi- tion into account as well as household size, and it assumes substantial economies of scale for small families. Empirically, this means that the estimated advantage of mov- ing from a two- or three-person household to a single-person household is smaller when the poverty scale is used than when the ELES scale is used.


We measure specialization in market provi- sion using the male partner's share of total household labor income, or his share of tax- able income if he had no labor income. We set the male share to zero if there was no tax- able income; in a few cases where business losses resulted in no income or negative in- come we measured market specialization us- ing the ratio of the male partner's annual work hours in the year preceding separation to the sum of the hours worked by both part- ners. We grouped men by their share of pre- disruption household income: less than 40 percent of the total, at least 40 percent but less than 60 percent, at least 60 percent but less than 80 percent, and 80 percent or more.

We begin with estimates of the average im- pact of separation for married men and co- habitants. The top panel of Table 1 shows, for white and black men, the coefficient es- timates and the estimated percentage impact of separation on total private (gross) house- hold income, per capita income, and stan- dard of living. White men who separate lose roughly one-third of their total private household income, on average, and cohabi- tants lose only slightly more than married men do. The losses for married African American men are similar to those for mar- ried white men, but black cohabitants lose relatively more of their pre-disruption gross income than do whites. In terms of per capita income, the disadvantages of losing partner's income are offset by fewer depen- dents in the new, smaller household. On av- erage, per capita income increases, espe- cially for married men, who tend to be sepa- rating from larger households.

These results summarize two well-known facts about men's economic status following separation and divorce: Household income declines, but income per person increases. The equivalency measures are more useful as estimates of change in living standards. By either equivalency measure, the short- term impact of separation on men's gross living standards is modest. The impact is significant only for African American cohabitors, for whom the steep decline in nominal income following separation pro- duces a significant decline in gross standard of living.

The gross impact of separation is prima- rily because of changes in labor market in- come. The net economic impact also in- cludes changes in government taxes, public transfers, and support payments. The lower panel of Table 1 shows that economic de- clines are more pronounced after accounting for these nonmarket leveling mechanisms. White men experience a decline in living standards of 11 percent to 20 percent, and unmarried men lose more than married men do. The results for married African Ameri- can men are negative but nonsignificant, and again, black cohabitants experience the most serious declines in their living standards fol- lowing separation. On average, the eco- nomic status of men who separate slips be- low their previous level of material well-be- ing in the immediate aftermath of union dis- solution, and both market and nonmarket mechanisms contribute to this decline.

Table 1. Instrumental Variables Estimates for the Economic Consequences of Separation for Married and Cohabiting Men: Panel Study of Income Dynamics, 1982 to 1992

White Men Standard of

Type of Real Per Capita Sevaration Income Income ELES

Gross Private Household Income

Separation from -.397*** .385*** -.005 marriage (.040) (.050) (.043)

Separation from -.443** .349*** -.033 cohabitation (.098) (.094) (.092)

Average percentage impact of separation if:
Separated from marriage     -33     47     0
Separated from cohabitation     -36     42     -3


-.037 (.044) -.lo7 (.096)



Net Household Income after Taxes, Transfers, and Support Payments

Separation from -.5 13*** .293*** -. 116***-. 146*** marriage (.035) (.040) (.035) (.036)

Separation from -.553*** .254***-. 130* -.219*** cohabitation (.063) (.068) (.059) (.066)

Average percentage impact of separation if:
Separated from marriage     -40     34     -11     -14
Separated from cohabitation     -42     29     -12     -20

Black Men Standard of Real Per Capita Living Income Income ELES Povertv
-.383*** .546*** .069     .068
(.112)     (.164)     (.137)     (.139)
-.885*** .I29     -.429*     -.379*
(.141)     (.243)     (.182)     (.189)

-32 73 7 7
-59 14 -35 -32

-.527*** .516*** -.030 -.032 (.084) (.114) (.094) (.099)

-.860*** ,260 -.363** -.313* (.103) (.175) (.135) (.136)

-41 68 -3 -3
-5 8 30 -30 -27

Note: Numbers in parentheses are robust standard errors. Number of person-years for white men is 16,403; the number of person-years for black men is 5,410.

*p< .05 **p< .01 ***p 4 ,001(two-tailed tests)

Our next task is to unpack the market and nonmarket mechanisms shaping the finan- cial aftermath of separation. Married and co- habiting men vary in their exposure to mar- ket risk from the loss of their partner's in- come, and separation almost certainly has different consequences for sole breadwin- ners than for men who rely heavily on their partner's income. Welfare state, judicial, and private, voluntary responses to the separa- tion may exacerbate or narrow these differ- ences. In the remainder of the analyses we use breadwinner status rather than marital status to show how variation in men's pre- disruption household situation contributes to a heterogeneous set of outcomes for men who ~eparate.~

Along the way, we demon- strate that the economic windfall that is con- ventionally attributed to men in general ac- tually applies to only a select group of men who go through a separation or divorce. There are clear economic winners; but there are also clear economic losers.

The regression estimates in Table 2 show the impact of separation on change in nomi- nal income for men according to breadwin- ner status in the pre-disruption household.

Married men in our sample had better post- separation outcomes than did cohabiting men, in part because they contributed proportionally more to pre-disruption household income. In supplemental analyses restricted to the sub- sample of married men, we obtained results simi- lar to those presented here.

Table 2. Instrumental Variables Estimates for the Average Impact of Separation on Men's Nominal Income, by Share of Pre-Disruption Income: Panel Study of Income Dynamics, 1982 to 1992

White Men Black Men

Pre-Post-Net Income after Pre-Post-Net Income after

Male Share of Pre- Gov,t Gov,t SupportPayments Gov,t Gov,t SupportPayments Disruption Income Income Adjusted Reported Income Income Adjusted Reported Income (1) (2) (3) (4) (1) (2) (3) (4)

Less than 40% -.968*** -.899*** -.957*** -.983*** -.5 16 -.612** -.630*** -.640*** (.155) (.115) (.113) (.Ill) (.285) (.196) (.197) (.198)

At least 40% -.588*** -.554*** -.61 I*** -.633*** -.665*** -.592*** -.605*** -.61 I*** but ~60% (.062) (.053) (.056) (.056) (.168) (.130) (.132) (.133)

At least 60% -.409*** -.394*** -.473*** -.507*** -.702*** -.662*** -.710*** -.742*** but 480% (.046) (.035) (.040) (.042) (.147) (.118) (.117) (.117)

80% or more -.162** -.215*** -.314*** -.353*** -,35 I* -,466*** -,529*** -.565*** (.052) (.041) (.046) (.047) (.137) (.110) (.098) (.092)

Percentage impact of separation on nominal income: Less than 40% -62 -59 -62 -63 -40 -46 -47 -47

At least 40% -44 -43 -46 -47 -49 -45 -45 -46 but <60%

At least 60% -34 -33 -38 40 -50 -4 8 -5 1 -52 but <80%

80% or more -15 -19 -27 -30 -30 -3 7 -4 1 -43

Note: Numbers in parentheses are robust standard errors. Number of person-years for white men is 16,403; number of person-years for black men is 5,410. *pc .05 **p< .O1 ***p4 ,001 (two-tailed tests)

Not surprisingly, the expected loss in nomi- nal income following separation is strongly related to pre-separation relative income contributions. Men who earned less than their partners before separating experienced the greatest income loss. But these men also replaced more of their lost income, on aver- age, than did men in more traditionally spe- cialized households, largely because the ini- tial labor supply of men who were second- ary breadwinners was unusually low.

Welfare state tax and transfer policies level the market consequences to some ex- tent (see Table 2, column 2). As a group, men who contributed the largest share to pre-disruption income experienced the smallest post-disruption drop in gross household income, but the separation-in- duced changes in welfare state taxes and transfers considerably increased their net financial decline. For other men, welfare policy typically buffered the income loss slightly. African American men with low pre-disruption contributions were an excep- tion in that they experienced greater de- clines in post-government than in pre-gov- ernment income.

Columns 3 and 4 of Table 2 show the es- timated impact of separation using the (downward-) adjusted measure of transfer payments (column 3) and the unadjusted measure (column 4). Support payments in- creased average income declines following separation, even among men who earned less than their partners in the pre-disruption household. For white men, support pay- ments erased all mitigation from the wel- fare state, and for both black men and white men the negative impact of support pay- ments increased with the prominence of the male breadwinner role.

Next, we replaced nominal income as the outcome of interest with standard of living, measured using the ELES scale. These re- sults, shown in the top panel of Table 3, show that market forces alone-loss of partner's income and the inability to com- pensate-have a powerful impact on men's

Table 3. Instrumental Variables Estimates for the Impact of Separation on Men's Standard of Living (ELES and Poverty Scales), by Share of Pre-Disruption Income: Panel Study of Income Dynamics, 1982to 1992

White Men Black Men

Standard of Living Net Standard of Living standard of ~ i ~ i ~ ~

Net Standard of Living Pre-Post-after Support Payments Pre-after Support Payments

Male Share -ofPre-Disrup-Gov't Gov't Adjusted Reported Gov't Gov't Adjusted Reported tion Income (1) (2) (3) (4) (1) (2) (3) (4)

ELES Scale Less than 40% -.561** -.420** -.490*** -.516*** -.087 -.I26 -.I43 -.I53 (.172) (.130) (.131) (.129) (.301) (.234) (.236) (.236)

At least 40% -.178** -. 129* -.193*** -.216*** -.237 -.I65 -.I80 -.I88 but<60% (.060) (.051) (.053) (.053) (.204) (.164) (.166) (.168)

At least 60% ,014 .036 -.050 -.088* -.275 -.I67 -.219* -.256* but 480% (.050) (.037) (.041) (.043) (.188) (.Ill) (.110) (.Ill)

80% or more .198*** .160*** ,056 ,009 .I56 .lo2 .040 ,004 (.057) (.042) (.045) (.047) (.172) (.125) (.110) (.103)

Percentage impact of separation on standard of living (ELES scale):
Less than 40% -43 -34 -39 -40 -8 -12 -13 -14
At least 40% -16 -12 -18 -19 -2 1 -15 -16 -17
but 460%
At least 60% 1 4 -5 -8 -24 -15 -20 -23
but < 80%
80% or more 22 17 6 1 17 11 4 0

U.S. Poverty Scale

Less than 40% -.595***
(. 169)

At least 40% -.224***
but <60% (.064)

At least 60% -.029
but 480% (.052)

80% or more .169**

Percentage impact of separation on standard of living (poverty scale):
Less than 40% -45 -39 -43 -44 -7 -1 1 -12 -1 3
At least 40% -20 -16 -2 1 -23 -2 1 -15 -17 -17

but 460% At least 60% -3 -1 -9 -12 -2 3 -16 -20 -23 but < 80% 80% or more 18 14 3 -2 22 16 9 5

Note: Numbers in parentheses are robust standard errors. Number of person-years for white men is 16,403; number of person-years for black men is 5,410. *p< .05 **p< .O1 ***p< ,001 (two-tailed tests)

standard of living. White men who contrib- mitigation provided by the welfare state is uted less than 60 percent to pre-disruption offset by the negative effect of support pay- income experienced a decline in living stan- ments. White men who provided at least 60 dards simply because of the loss of percent but less than 80 percent of pre-dis- partner's income. The effects of taxes and ruption income experienced little change in transfers reduce their losses, but most of the their standard of living until support pay-






...... .................................................... ....................... ....
.... ...

.3. :. s...

..... .......................................................... .... ...... .................


White Men Black Men

Less than At least At least 80% or Less than At least At least 80% or

40% 40% but 60% but more 40% 40% but 60% but more

less than less than less than less than

60% 80% 60% 80%
Male Share of Pre-Disruption Household Income

Figure 1. Estimated Percentage Change in Men's Nominal Income Following Separation, by Share of Pre-Disruption Household Income: Panel Study of Income Dynamics, 1982 to 1992

ments are taken into account. When re-justed for possible overreporting (6 per-ported support payments are factored in, we cent), they are not statistically significant in estimate that this group suffers a decline in either of these model^.^ average living standards of about 8 percent. African American men who contributed However, the estimated decline is 5 percent the largest share to pre-disruption household and not statistically significant in our mod- income may also maintain or improve their els, when we instead use the adjusted mea- 1 standard of living following separation, but sure of support payments. the estimated positive effects are not statis-

White men who contributed 80 percent or tically significant. The instrumental variable more to the couple's household income en- results, while imprecise, suggest that aver- joyed significant increases in their gross age living standards decline for all other standard of living following union dissolu- groups of African American men. For men tion. Government taxes and transfers reduce who contributed at least sixty percent but these gross gains, but their post-government less than 80 percent of pre-disruption in- standard of living is still 17 percent better come, the estimated net decline was 20 per- than it was prior to separation. However, cent and was significant. these men, who best represent those with The same pattern of results for African the traditional male breadwinner role, also American men appears when we use the report paying more support (as a percentage U.S. poverty scale instead of the ELES scale of income) than other men, and these sup- to estimate average change in living stan- port payments play a larger role in reducing dards (Table 3, bottom panel). For white their gain from separation than do govern- ment taxes and transfers. If their own re-

In other models, in which we used alternative

ports are taken as accurate, support pay-

instruments that allowed us to retain the first year

ments reduce their gain in standard of liv-

of data, the estimated gain in (adjusted) post-sup-

ing following separation to a statistically

port living standards for men who contributed 80 nonsignificant 1 percent. While the gains percent or more to pre-disruption income was 10 are larger when support payments are ad- percent and statistically significant.
White Men Black Men

f...................................................................................................................... Post-government

.After transfers (adjusted)

I "

. .
    I        I
    Less than    At least     At least     80% or     Less than     At least     At least     80% or
    40%    40% but     60% but     more     40%     40% but     60% but     more
        less than    less than             less than     less than     
        60%    80%             60%     80%     
Male Share of Pre-Disruption Household Income

Figure 2. Estimated Percentage Change in Men's Standard of Living (ELES Scale) Following Separation, by Share of Pre-Disruption Household Income: Panel Study of Income
Dynamics, 1982 to 1992

men, the poverty-scale estimates generally indicate larger losses and smaller gains, with significant declines for all but the most exclusive breadwinners.

Figure 1 plots the estimates for change in nominal income following union dissolution (from Table 2); Figure 2 plots the estimates using (ELES) standard of living (from Table 3, top panel). These figures illustrate several important results of our regression analyses. First, market mechanisms were the most important determinants of both white men's and black men's economic outcomes immediately after separation. Second, the impact of nonmarket mechanisms was greatest among men who relied least on partner's market income in the pre-disruption household. A third important result is clear from Figure 2: Only men with little reliance on their partner's income before separation increased their average living standards following separation. Supplementary analyses, which used the alternative strategy of directly modeling the probability of suffering a gain or loss in living standards following union dissolution, produced similar results (these are available from the authors on request).


We have shown that support payments are an important determinant of men's net economic outcomes following separation. However, our full-sample results use a measure that does not separate compulsory payments (alimony and child support) and voluntary payments. To distinguish between these events, we use a subsample of unions observed after 1985, when separate information on child-support payments, alimony, and voluntary support payments were first collected in the PSID. In these data, roughly half of separating men report paying some support, compared with 13 percent of men in intact unions. Child-support and alimony payments dominate the transfers among men who separate, while only one-third of the men in intact unions who paid support reported paying child-support or alimony. Compulsory payments tend to be larger than voluntary transfers, so both the prevalence and the amount of support reported is much higher among newly separated men, especially those who lived with biological or adoptive children in the pre-disruption household.



-8 -2






E -4






5W -6 6
White Men
-12     J     Less than 40%     At least 40% but less than 60%




Black Men
Compulsory and Voluntary Transfers:

Child support plus alimony Total transfers
At least     80% or     Less than     At least
60% but     more     40%     40% but
less than             less than
80%             60%
Male Share of Pre-Disruption Household Income
At least     80% or     
60% but     more     
less than         

Figure 3. Percentage-Point Decline in Separated Men's Post-Disruption Nominal Income Due Solely to Compulsory and Voluntary Transfers, by Share of Pre-Disruption Household Income: Panel Study of Income Dynamics, 1986 to 1992

Using the post-1985 subsample to calculate the average income loss attributable to judicial mechanisms and to informal support mechanisms, we plotted these differences in Figures 3 and 4.8 Figure 3 shows that compulsory support payments account for most of the additional income lost by men, and that compulsory support payments take a larger bite out of the incomes of men who were the primary breadwinners in the pre-disruption household. The same is true for voluntary support payments: Informal transfers have a negligible impact on men who contributed less than 60 percent to the couple's income, but reduce the income of men who contributed a greater share of income by an additional .5 to 2.5 percentage points, even after child-support and ali-

First, we estimated a baseline model for the impact of separation on men's post-government income. We then repeated the estimation after subtracting (adjusted) alimony and child-support payments, and again after subtracting all (adjusted) compulsory and voluntary support payments. The differences between the baseline and post-support estimates constitute our estimates.

mony payments have been taken into account. Support payments have a greater impact on men's (ELES) living standards than on their nominal income (compare Figure 3 and Figure 4), and both compulsory and voluntary support payments reduce the living standards of primary breadwinners more so than for other men.


Our results demonstrate that the financial impact of separation depends on the extent to which a man relies on his partner's income in the pre-separation household, on household composition before and after separation, and on family-support payments made in the aftermath of separation. If men did not adjust their behavior to the fact of separation, the impact of this event could be determined by subtracting the ex-partner's income and adjusting for post-separation household size. In reality, of course, ex-partners can modify such simple predictions






-1 -2






m Compulsoryand Voluntary Transfers:


Child support plus alimony Total transfers

Less than     At least     At least     80% or     Less than     At least     At least     80% or
40%     40% but     60% but     more     40%     40% but     60% but     more
    less than    less than             lessthan     less than     
    60%    80%             60%     80%     
Male Share of Pre-Disruption Household Income

Figure 4. Percentage-Point Decline in Separated Men's Post-Disruption Living Standards (ELES Scale) Due Solely to Compulsory and Voluntary Transfers, by Share of Pre-Disruption Household Income: Panel Study of Income Dynamics, 1986 to 1992

through changes in labor supply or rapid repartnering.

One way to examine the impact of potential behavioral responses to separation is to simulate the impact of separation on a given population of partnered men, and to compare the simulated results with the actual outcomes for men who separated. We performed a straightforward simulation using data for all men who were married or in long-term cohabiting unions at time t between 1980 and 1991.9 We began with reported measures of household income and household size at time t -1 and time t + 1 in the data (we used pre-government income as the basis for performing these simulations rather than attempting to accurately simulate changes in government tax burdens and transfer levels). We then adjusted the measures at time t + l by assuming that all men

The sample size is larger for this analysis because these computations do not require the additional information on twice-lagged income that was needed for the instrumental variables estimation, hence we include an additional year of data.

separated and lost all labor income from household members other than themselves. We assumed that men lived alone following separation, that they received no cash support, and that they paid no support-unless their "pre-disruption" household included at least one biological or adoptive child, in which case we assumed they paid 15 percent of their final income in family-support payments.1° We also performed simulations for biological and adoptive fathers under the alternative assumption that they take physical custody of all their co-resident children, in which case we assume the custodial father neither pays nor receives any child-support or alimony. We simulated income change as the median percentage change between the simulated income at time t + 1 and the ac


lo The 15 percent figure is somewhat arbitrary given variation in the number of children being supported and the specifics of the decree. We found, however, that men who shifted from a union with children to a separation without children contributed 18 percent of their income, on average, if they paid any support.

Table 4. Simulated Impact of Separation on Married and Cohabiting Men's Median Income and Standard of Living (ELES Scale), by Share of Pre-Disruption Income: Panel Study of Income Dynamics, 1981 to 1992

Male Share of "Pre-Disruption" Household Income a

Less At least 40% At least 60% 80% Household Type than 40% but <60% but <80% or More

Couple with Minor Children of Man in Household

Median income (1990 dollars): Earnings of other household members $16,748 $21,918 $14,065 $459 Pre-government household income $24,881 $48,304 $51,262 $41,716

Predicted median percentage impact of separation on pre-government incomelliving standards: Household income -51h(1.9) -42' (.5) -27* (.6) -4* (.5) Standard of living, if no custody -20* (3.4) -6* (.9) 19* (.7) 58' (.8) Standard of living, if custody -43* (1.7) -33* (.6) -18 (5 6* (.5)

Number of cases

Percentage of sample

Couples with Other Children or Adults in Household

Median income (1990 dollars): Earnings of other household members $25,862 $27,064 $17,500 $2,381 Pre-government household income $43,881 $61,962 $63,813 $49,869

Predicted median percentage impact of separation on pre-government incomelliving standards: Household income -60' (1.4) -46* (.7) -29' (.8) -lo* (1.1) Standard of living -24' (1.8) 1 (1.3) 31 (1.5) 64* (1.8)

Number of cases

Percentage of sample

Couple Only

Median income (1990 Dollars): Earnings of other household members $15,848 $22,919 $15,094 $0 Pre-government household income $28,740 $50,709 $54,491 $43,822

Predicted median percentage impact of separation on pre-government incomelliving standards: Household income -45*(2.5) -41' (.6) -28' (.6) -8* (.7) Standard of living -16* (3.3) -1 (8 8* (.8) 39- (1.1)

Number of cases

Percentage of sample

All Couples

Predicted median percentage impact of separation on pre-government incomelliving standards: Household income -53* (1.2) -42* (.5) -28* (.3) -5' (.3) Standard of living, if no custody -21 (1.8) -7* (.8) 17' (.6) 54' (.6) Standard of living, if custody -28* (1.5) -19* (.7) -4* (.7) 16* (.5)

Percentage of sample 10 20 27 43

Note: Numbers in parentheses are bootstrapped standard errors (1,000 replications).

a Results are calculated from full sample of married and cohabiting men. The disruption is simulated.

* Ratio of estimate to bootstrapped standard error 2 2.

tual income at time t -1, and we calculated change in pre-government living standards using the appropriate ELES weights. l1

Table 4 shows the predicted change in me- dian pre-government household income and ELES living standards for partnered men, grouped by household composition and breadwinner status at time t -1. Each panel shows the number of observations and the weighted relative frequency of each cell, fol- lowed by the median labor income contribu- tion of other household members and me- dian total pre-government household in- come. The next rows of each panel show simulated change in income and standard of living if these men were to separate from their partners, along with bootstrapped stan- dard errors for each estimate.

The simulations in Table 4 show the poten- tial importance of pre-disruption labor mar- ket specialization for changes in living stan- dards. Regardless of pre-disruption house- hold composition, men whose share of pre- disruption market income was less than 60 percent are predicted to see a decline in their living standards, while men who contribute 80 percent or more are uniformly predicted to experience a rise in living standards. Ac- cording to these predictions, the biggest group of economic winners following sepa- ration should be fathers of minor children who best fit the traditional male breadwinner role. These fathers constitute 28 percent of all men in marriages and long-term unions in our data, and most would improve their liv- ing standards even if they took custody of their children. Assuming maternal custody and paternal support, these men stand to gain substantially from divorce or separation.

The actual median impact of separation on men is shown in Table 5.As predicted by the simulations, men who contributed less than 60 percent to pre-disruption household in- come saw their median standard of living decline, men who contributed 80 percent or more experienced net gains, and men who contributed at least 60 percent but less than

"Results based on the U.S. poverty scale are not shown, but as was the case for the previous analyses (Table 3), white men's post-disruption outcomes were worse when the estimates were based on the poverty scale, and black men's post- disruption outcomes were similar.

80 percent had mixed outcomes. However, while the overall pattern of changes in the actual and simulated data is similar, the mag- nitude of the actual economic impact of sepa- ration is different in important respects from the simulations. Fathers with the worst pre- dicted outcomes lost less than expected, pre- sumably because they had greater flexibility to increase their labor supply, while men with the best predicted outcomes did not fare as well as predicted. In line with previous re- search, Table 5 also shows that the median pre-separation household income for couples who separate was lower than for couples who did not separate, and that separating couples were less likely to rely primarily on a single male breadwinner than were couples who re- main together (Brines and Joyner 1999).


The economic "cost" of separation can be estimated by comparing the median change in net standard of living experienced by men who separate to the median change in net standard of living experienced by men who remained in intact unions. As bounds on these estimates, we computed net income based both on our adjusted measure of sup- port payments and on men's actual reports of support payments. We also computed living standards using alternative equivalency scales. Table 6 shows change in living stan- dards and the estimated impact of separation for both the short-run time frame used here, and also for a longer time frame that extends to three years after the last intact-union in- terview. Columns 1 and 2 in Table 6 show that men who remained in intact unions typi- cally experienced small but significant in- creases in living standards over two years, while men who separated were likely to ex- perience a gain only if they had little reliance on their partner's income before the separa- tion. Column 3 shows the difference in the short-term financial trajectories between men in intact unions and men who separate.

Men who separate tend to lose economic standing relative to men who remain in in- tact unions, and the cost is greatest for men whose partners contributed a substantial share of pre-disruption income. Only men who contributed 80 percent or more of a

Table 5. Actual Impact of Separation on Married and Cohabiting Men's Median Income and
Standard of Living (ELES Scale), by Share of Pre-Disruption Household Income: Panel
Study of Income Dynamics, 1981 to 1992

Male Share of Pre-Disruption Household Income

Less At least 40% At least 60% 80% Household Type than 40% but <60% but <80% or More

Couple with Minor Children of Man in Household

Median income (1990 dollars): Income from other household members $13,836 $21,583 $14,388 $0 Pre-government household income $20,704 $41,667 $48,579 $29,885

Median percentage impact of separation on pre-government income/living standards:
Household income Pre-support standard of living Post-support standard of living     -37* (13.8) 0 (19.3) -5 (17.7)     -40* -5 -9     (7.2) (7.0) (8.1)     -23* 7 -2     (5.1) (6.7) (5.6)     -5 (4.3) 43* (9.4) 30* (8.8)
Net impact on living standards a         
Number of cases         
Percentage of separations     5     10     18     24
Couple with Other Children or Adults in Household Median income (1990 dollars): Income from other household members Pre-government household income     $15,170 $25,621     $23,622 $51,400     $13,635 $38,783     $1,724 $32,710
Median percentage impact of separation on pre-government incometliving stHousehold income -62* (6.6) 46* (8.2) Post-support standard of living -25 (15.8) -16 (14.2)     andards: -17* (8.5) 5 (10.1)     15 (1 1.8) 35* (12.5)
Net impact on living standards a     -17     (21.2)     -16*     (8.1)     4     (7.7)     19     (13.5)
Number of cases         29         3 6         29         49
Percentage of separations         3         4         4         6
Couple Only Median income (1990 dollars): Income from other household members Pre-government standard of living     $26,415 $35,220     $21,552 $49,245     $10,727 $39,080     $2,874 $37,560
Median percentage impact of separation on pre-government incometliving standards: Household income -70* (9.3) -40* (4.5) -27* (3.2) Post-support standard of living -56* (13.7) -20* (5.8) 9 (5.5)     -13 2     (7.2) (14.3)
Net impact on living standards a         
Number of cases         
Percentage of separations     2     8     8     8
All Separated Men Median percentage impact of separation on incomelliving standards: Pre-government standard of living -25 (12.6) -11* Net standard of living (adjusted support) -20* (8.3) -12* Net standard of living (reported support) -22* (8.2) -12*     (3.9) (3.6) (3.7)     9* 0 -5     (3.7) (3.8) (4.2)     33* (6.3) 15* (6.1) ll* (4.8)
Percentage of separations     11     22     30     38

Note: Numbers in parentheses are bootstrapped standard errors (1,000 replications). Percentages do not always sum to 100 because of rounding. a Net impact on living standards is calculated as the median change in ELES-weighted post-government income less (adjusted) support payments at both time points.

* Ratio of estimate to bootstrapped standard error t2.

Table 6. Percentage Change in Net Standard of Living (ELES and Poverty Scales) for Men Who Separate versus Men Who Remain in Intact Unions, by Share of Pre-Disruption Income: Panel Study of Income Dynamics, 1981 to 1992
Percentage Change in Net     Percentage Change in Net
Standard of Living,     t-1     to t+ 1 a     Standard of Living,     t-1     to t+3a
    Intact                Intact         
Male Share of     Separated     Union     Difference     Separated     Union     Difference
Pre-Disruption Income     (1)     (2)         (3)     (4)     (5)         (6)
Less than 40%                                 
ELES scale, adjusted     -20*                             
Poverty scale, adjusted     -27*                             
ELES scale, reported     -22*                             
Poverty scale, reported     -27*                             

At least 40% but less than 60% ELES scale, adjusted -12*

(3.5) Poverty scale, adjusted -17*

(2.7) ELES scale, reported -12*

(3.7) Poverty scale, reported -18'


At least 60% but less than 80% ELES scale, adjusted 0

(3.8) Poverty scale, adjusted -5

(4.0) ELES scale, reported -5

(4.2) Poverty scale, reported -9 *


80% or more ELES scale, adjusted 15*

(4.7) Poverty scale, adjusted 12*

(4.4) ELES scale, reported ll*

(4.8) Poverty scale, reported 7*


Note: Numbers in parentheses are bootstrapped standard errors (1,000 replications)

a Percentage change in net standard of living is calculated as the median change in scaled post-government income less (adjusted or reported) support payments at both time points.

* Ratio of estimate to bootstrapped standard error t2.

couple's household income experienced ing, we repeated these analyses using two gains in relative living standards, and this other widely used equivalency scales-and estimated advantage is statistically signifi- we achieved substantially similar result^.'^ cant only when net income is based on ad- justed rather than reported support pay- l2 One equivalency scale commonly used in in- ments. To check the robustness of this find- ternational research deflates income by the Table 6 also shows change in economic out- comes over a longer period by extending the time frame from one calendar year to three calendar years after the last intact-union in- terview (columns 4 through 6). The eco- nomic outcomes for separated men who were not primary breadwinners still lags sig- nificantly behind men in intact unions over this longer period of time, although we see some evidence that the immediate losses of union dissolution are attenuated. In contrast, the traditional male breadwinners who enjoy an increase in living standards following separation are able to retain or increase these economic gains, at least up to the three-year point. l3

Our results show that the economic conse- quences of union dissolution for men depend on relative income shares in the pre-disrup- tion household, on the composition of the pre-disruption household, and on the issues of physical custody of children, alimony, child support, and other transfers. In recent years, variations in these characteristics have produced heterogeneous outcomes among newly separated and divorced men. We close our analysis with a consideration of the evi- dence in our data on recent trends in these

square root of household size; in our analyses the results using this scale are similar to the ELES results.

We also used a scale based on the annual needs measure provided by the PSID. Although this measure uses the same type of Orshansky food- based scale as the poverty measure, it takes into account the specific age and sex composition in the household, and it is adjusted for changes in household composition over the course of the year. Results were generally more pessimistic for men when the needs measure was used: They sug- gested significant losses for men who contribute at least 60 percent but less than 80 percent of household income, and insignificant gains for men contributing more than 80 percent. Complete results are available on request from the authors.

l3 Analyses of five-year change suggested at- tenuation of both short-term losses and short- term gains over time. However, the five-year sample sizes are too small to produce precise comparisons.

characteristics, and some speculation on the future impact of separation on men's economic well-being.

At the start of the 1980s, roughly half of the unions in our data were characterized by a male breadwinner who contributed 80 per- cent or more to household income, withthe remainder of unions split between those dual-earner households in which the male contributions outweighed his partner's by half or more and thosein which women were truly joint or primary breadwinners. A little more than a decade later, households that re- lied almost exclusively on men's incomes accounted for only 36.8 percent of partner- ships, while households in which women contributed at least 40 percent of income ac- counted for 35.2 percent of unions. These trends are similar-to those found in census data (Hayghe 1993). Our data also show shifts in couples' household composition during this period, with the proportion of partnered men living with biological or adoptive children under age 18 declining from 58 percent at the start of the 1980s to less than half at the start of the 1990s, and the proportion of couple-only households in- creasing modestly. At the same time, the pro- portion of partnered men living in alterna- tive arrangements-with stepchildren, older biological children, and other relatives and nonrelatives-increased. The evidence in our data suggest that for men, the financial burden of separation is slowly increasing over time, regardless of changes in child- support enforcement, and that shifts in household composition may contribute to even greater heterogeneity in outcomes over time. Direct evidence for trends in the finan- cial consequences of union dissolution for men requires larger samples and a longer time period than we use here. It is likely, however, that three decades of change in the characteristics of unions have had a substan- tial impact on the distribution of economic outcomes for men in the aftermath of union dissolution.

Research on the economic consequences of union dissolution has understandably fo- cused on women and children, who over- whelmingly suffer serious declines in their material well-being in the aftermath of sepa- ration and divorce. Despite mixed findings in the scholarly literature, discussions of men's outcomes continue to presume a strong symmetry between women's outcomes and men's. This presumption of sym- metry takes the form of treating men's out- comes as if they were homogeneous, and could be summarized as succinctly as the outcomes for women. Among conservative and progressive activists, the presumption of symmetry often leads to the inference that the economic losses experienced by women represent economic gains for men.

We have shown that most men who sepa- rate do not experience gains in their living standards. In fact, men's economic outcomes following separation and divorce are hetero- geneous, with a majority of losers but a siz- able core of winners. Studies that focus on women's outcomes have yet to unearth any comparable core of women who gain finan- cially following union diss~lution.'~

Instead, researchers using the latest available data seem to agree that women's economic out- comes following divorce have not improved much in recent years (Bianchi et al. 1999; Hanson, McLanahan, and Thomson 1998; Smock et al. 1999). Taken together, the evi- dence suggests that it is increasingly likely that both partners will experience a loss of their previous living standards following a breakup.

A substantial minority of men sees their standard of living slip in the aftermath of separation and divorce simply because of the loss of partner's income and the inability to compensate for that loss. Welfare state taxes and transfers have a modest impact on men's economic outcomes, generally buffering the losses of men who experienced the greatest income declines following separation, and reducing the substantial gains of men who had little or no reliance on partner's income prior to separation. However, judicial mechanisms that provide for compulsory transfers between men and their children or former spouses proved to be a more power- ful mechanism for leveling men's income

l4 We replicated the analyses here for the sample of women, and our results are consistent with published findings (results available on re- quest).

than did welfare state policy. Compulsory support payments increased the negative im- pact of separation even among men who contributed the least to pre-disruption in- come, and the impact of compulsory support payments increased with the extent of the man's breadwinner role. Informal support payments had a much smaller impact, but for primary breadwinners, voluntary transfers contributed modestly to the financial pain of separation.

Our finding that market mechanisms are the primary determinant of men's economic outcomes following separation should come as no surprise, given recent trends in women's labor market participation. How- ever, research on marriage and the family has paid scant attention to men's reliance on women's financial contributions to the household. In the literature on union forma- tion and dissolution, the labor market par- ticipation of women is frequently identified with the economic independence of women. "Economic independence" may be a useful concept when applied to individuals, but it is a misnomer when applied to the household economy. "Economic independence" ob- scures the fact that partners in most mar- riages and cohabiting unions are mutually reliant on each other to provide for the fi- nancial well-being of the family.

The tendency to equate increases in women's labor market participation with "economic independence" might lead to the fallacious supposition that women who sepa- rate are increasingly immune from economic decline in the aftermath of divorce. Both di- rect evidence (Bianchi et al. 1999; Smock et al. 1999) and indirect evidence from our own findings suggest they are not. Indeed, our findings suggest that most women would have to make heroic leaps in the labor (or marriage) market to keep their losses as small as the losses experienced by the men from whom they separate. That men, too, ex- perience economic declines in the aftermath of union dissolution confirms the argument made by Oppenheimer (1997): Marriage and cohabitation in the United States today are characterized by the joint economic interde- pendence of the partners, and models that take this interdependence into account are more useful for understanding recent changes in intimate unions than are models

that focus on the economic independence of each partner.

The primacy of market mechanisms is un- derscored by the economic gains experi- enced by men who separated from highly specialized unions. Relatively unscathed by market mechanisms, these men instead felt the full force of increased taxes, the loss of public transfers, child-support and alimony payments, and informal gifts and loans, all of which took a larger bite out of the in- comes of men who were the dominant bread- winners in the household prior to separation. Yet even the combined impact of welfare state, judicial, and voluntary support level- ing mechanisms did not prevent men who contributed 80 percent or more of pre-sepa- ration household income from maintaining or improving their living standards in the af- termath of separation. Our estimates show these men typically gain by about 10 percent, a figure that echoes findings from the era when highly specialized households were the norm. Despite the many changes in families and their institutional environment, the financial advantages of separation and divorce persist for the minority of men whose household arrangements resemble those of the typical 1950s family.

Patricia A. McManus is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Indiana University. Her research addresses social stratification, job mobility, and income mobility in the United States and West- ern Europe. She is especially interested in how cross-national differences in labor markets, wel- fare policy, and marriage and family institutions produce specific sets of opportunities and con- straints that have implications for individual ac- tion and the aggregate well-being of individuals and families over time. She is author of "Women's Participation in Self-Employment in Western Industrialized Nations," (International Journal of Sociology, forthcoming) and co-au- thor (with Thomas A. DiPrete) of "Family Change, Employment Transitions, and the Wel-

fare State: Household Income Dynamics in the United States and Germany" (American Socio- logical Review 2000, vol. 65,pp. 343-70).

Thomas A. DiPrete is Professor of Sociology and Senior Research Fellow in the Center for Demo- graphic Studies at Duke University, and Re- search Professor at the German Institute for Eco- nomic Research (DIW) in Berlin. His primary re- search interests concern the consequences of na- tional-level institutional arrangements for strati- fication and life-course-related outcomes of in- dividuals and families. His recent and current work includes comparisons of individual and household income dynamics in the United States and Germany; job mobility in the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden; unemployment dynamics in France and Sweden, the structure of wage trajectories and contingent work arrangements in France and the United States; and how state policies and market ar- rangements affect fertility rates via their effect on the costs of raising children and the difficulty of combining childrearing and career in the United States and selected European societies.

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