The Long-Term Impact of Divorce on Women's Earnings: Evidence from Successive Cohorts since 1970

Kenneth Couch, University of Connecticut
Christopher R. Tamborini, U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA)
Gayle Reznik, U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA)

There is longstanding concern about the economic consequences of family structure changes on women. We investigate the long-term impact and temporal pattern of marital dissolution on women‟s earnings in the United States. We exploit a unique data set that links retrospective family history data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation to confidential longitudinal earnings records from the Social Security Administration. Using a fixed-effects model, women who divorced between 1974 and 1994 were compared to women who remained married. We find large and persistent gains in women‟s earnings in response to divorce, holding time-varying education and children variables constant. The effect was particularly sharp and long lasting among women who did not remarry. We find a reduction in women's proportional earnings response to more recent dissolutions (1990-94) relative to earlier dissolution events (1970-74). Results bring attention to the role of unexpected family events in shaping women's work history trajectories.

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Presented in Session 157: Interaction of Economic and Family Processes