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The Financial Burden Women Face Post-Divorce

The Financial Burden Women Face Post-Divorce
When you and your spouse have come to the agreement to get a divorce, it doesn't mean the process will be easy.

Getting a divorce can be an intense emotional process full of stress and frustration.

Unfortunately, a divorce can be far more than just an emotional roller-coaster. It can also be a downward spiral of financial instability, especially for women who fall into a middle- or low-income bracket.

Even more so if you have no job, no credit in your name, or zero cash in your bank account.

Why is that?

According to an NBC News article, the major dividing line when it comes to divorce is education. According to University of Michigan economics and public policy professor, Justin Wolfers, 17 percent of couples without college degrees divorced within seven years of marriage. Other studies have also consistently shown higher unemployment rates for people who don't have college degrees. This means women who don't have a college degree are already more prone to divorce.

What are other financial burdens women may face during and after a divorce?

Nicholas H. Wolfinger, PhD, shares why some women suffer financially during and after a divorce.
Featured Speaker:
Nicholas H. Wolfinger, PhD
NickNicholas H. Wolfinger is Professor of Family and Consumer Studies and Adjunct Professor of Sociology at the University of Utah.

He received his undergraduate degree at the University of California, Berkeley and his Ph.D. at UCLA, both in sociology. His books include Understanding the Divorce Cycle: The Children of Divorce in Their Own Marriages, Do Babies Matter? Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower (with Mary Ann Mason and Marc Goulden), and Fragile Families and the Marriage Agenda (edited, with Lori Kowaleski-Jones).

He recently completed work on a fourth book, Soul Mates: Religion, Sex, Children, and Marriage among African Americans and Latinos (with W. Bradford Wilcox).

Nick is also the author of about 40 articles or chapters.
Nick splits his time between Northern California and Salt Lake City, Utah.

RadioMD Presents:HER Radio | Original Air Date: April 23, 2015
Host: Michelle King Robson & Pam Peeke, MD

Dr. Pam Peeke founder of the Peeke Performance Center and renowned nutrition and fitness expert, and Michelle King Robson, leading women's advocate, cut through the confusion and share the naked, bottom line truth about all things woman. It's HER Radio.

DR PEEKE: Hi. I'm Dr. Pam Peeke. Michelle's off today. We're going to talk about the financial burden women face after divorce. There's been some really new, hot news. I just saw this on NBC the other day and it's all about how divorce can mean tripping down the economic ladder for women. What's that about?

Well, we have our expert, Dr. Nicholas Wolfinger, who is a Professor of Family and Consumer Studies and Adjunct Professor of Sociology at the University of Utah. He's been studying this and has a great book, Fragile Families and the Marriage Agenda.

So, tell us, Dr. Wolfinger. First, welcome to HER Radio.

DR WOLFINGER: Thank you.

DR PEEKE: This is scary stuff for women. Why are so many women falling down the financial ladder after a divorce?

DR WOLFINGER: Well, it's been a very consistent statistic for decades that single mothers are about 5 times as likely to be in poverty as are two-parent families. The most important reason is that, in the majority of cases, although now, it's only a slim majority, women lose the majority of their income when they get divorced. Their husbands make more money than they do and as soon as they get divorced, that income is gone.

DR PEEKE: Wow. These are huge statistics. Five times. My, gosh. So, I don't think most women out there understand this. What is this whole issue of women not being in control of money in a relationship?

DR WOLFINGER: I don't think that's true at all.

DR PEEKE: Tell me.

DR WOLFINGER: I think they're often in control of money and I think women area often as good at handling money as men or better, but the husbands make more money, so when women get divorced, they lose a lot of their income. We also have to consider the kind of people who are especially likely to get divorced. That includes people who marry young and people who don't have a college education. These groups have higher divorce rates and they're also less poised to make money on their own if they do get divorced.

DR PEEKE: Interesting. Interesting. What about people who just co-habit? You know, they live together.

DR WOLFINGER: They lose a of their money, too, but they also have the same issue going on. People who co-habit are especially likely to be people who don't have college degrees and, again, they're not poised to make a lot of money. So, co-habitation dissolution or just breaking up, as normally people call it, is hard on them, too.

DR PEEKE: Interesting. You know, I'm curious. Where did you get the title of your book? What were you thinking? I loved it and I thought it was very catchy. Fragile Families. What does that mean?

DR WOLFINGER: A fragile family is a family without...It's a single parent family or a family where they live together without marriage and those families have high break up rates and single mothers are economically susceptible and don't have partner support and so that's why they're often called "fragile families".

DR PEEKE: Huh. Huh. Interesting. Tell me. Tell me something else. Is it really true that many men do not want their wives to out earn them because they feel they lose their value in the marriage?

DR WOLFINGER: You know, that was traditionally the case, but that's stereotype is increasingly falling by the wayside.

DR PEEKE: Really? Huh. So, what are the statistics on that?

DR WOLFINGER: On what exactly?

DR PEEKE: Well, specifically, you said it's falling by the wayside, so it must have been the majority of the time men felt that way, so is it...

DR WOLFINGER: Well, traditionally, that was the case, but no longer. Nowadays, women earn just as much money as their husbands or more money than their husbands in 40% of marriages.


DR WOLFINGER: So, it's statistics like that. It's becoming acceptable for women to make just as much money as their male partners.

DR PEEKE: So, is this really an intergenerational issue? In other words, if you look at 20 and 30-year-olds right now, do you think those women are going to be in much better stead if they go through a divorce?

DR WOLFINGER: Divorced women are doing much better financially than they used to. They have more education; they're marrying later; they're more likely to work themselves, but they're still likely to take a hit because they're still losing their husband's income.

DR PEEKE: Gotcha. So, really, what is the marriage agenda? You said, Fragile Families and the Marriage Agenda—the title of your book. What's that "marriage agenda" mean?

DR WOLFINGER: Well, the agenda is looking at the decline of marriage in the United States. You know, fewer people are getting married and wondering how it is that marriage rates can go back up. There's also a huge class divide in marriage. If you're college educated, you're likely to get married. You're likely to stay married. If you are not college educated, you are less likely to get married and more likely to have kids before you're married and you're more likely to get divorced. That's the marriage gap.


DR WOLFINGER: We're wondering how that can stay in place.

DR PEEKE: Interesting. So, in that recent NBC News article, it said the major dividing line when it comes to divorce is education, as you just said.

DR WOLFINGER: Yes, that's one of the big ones. Education and how old you are when you get married.

DR PEEKE: Very interesting. And, according to the University of Michigan Economics and Public Policy Professor Justin Wolfers, 17% of couples without college degrees, divorced within 7 years of marriage. Once again, that kind of really hits home, doesn't it?


DR PEEKE: You know, with that whole issue of really paying attention to trying to increase the success for marriage, so you've got education; you've got the age at time of marriage. That age has been creeping up big time, hasn't it?

The age at the time of marriage has been creeping up big time and I think, so also, has been the emphasis on education as well as responsibility when you put together the blueprint or template for a successful marriage or a coupling, I guess. Things are changing so dynamically out there. Cohabitation has been come much more of a popular way to be able to live and to co-exist and the whole issue of marriage has become very questionable. What is it all about? Why do we get married? That's why the book title, Fragile Families and the Marriage Agenda is so very provocative. We have a chance to be able to ask ourselves, "What are we doing here when we get together as a couple and how are we strategizing and organizing for ourselves as a couple?" Finding the answers is a huge piece of this. Younger women are garnering more and more control over the ability to have that power to be able to hold onto their financial baseline and strength even when you have divorce.

So, I think what Dr. Wolfinger has really noted in his book, Fragile Families and the Marriage Agenda is that you need to pay attention to these very critical factors for successful marriage. Education's a big one. Age at the time of marriage is another one and the ability to be able to cohabitate of a feeling of being on the same page, understanding what you're doing. So, here we are. Now, we understand the financial burden women face after divorce.

The book is Fragile Families and the Marriage Agenda.Thank you so much, Dr. Wolfinger. I'm Dr. Pam Peeke with Michelle King Robson.

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