Trends in the Economic Consequences of Union Dissolution

Laura M. Tach, Cornell University

Parents rely on public and private safety nets to cushion the economic losses of union dissolution. Changes in maternal labor force participation, government transfer programs, and private cash transfers may have altered the economic impact of union dissolution over time. Using the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) from 1984 to 2010, we show that the economic consequences of divorce have changed little since the 1980s, but married women have relied less on government transfers and more on their own earnings and private safety nets over time. In contrast, the economic consequences of cohabitation dissolution have increased markedly since the 1980s; mothers’ income losses from cohabitation dissolution now closely resemble those of divorced mothers. These trends imply that trends in the stability and economic costs of cohabitation have likely contributed to rising income instability for less-advantaged children.

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Presented in Session 126: Social Safety Nets, Family, and Economic Outcomes