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Do Men Treat Separation and Divorce Differently Than woman?

Last updated on August 16, 2020 3:12 pm


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Who suffers more from divorce: men or women? Debates about gender differences in the consequences of divorce as well as policies aimed at alleviating these differences often center on women’s vulnerability (Amato ; Diedrick ). After divorce, women experience disproportionate declines in household income (de Vaus et al. ; Smock ) and standard of living (Bianchi et al. ; Peterson ) as well as sharp increases in the risk of poverty (Smock and Manning ). Women may also face a higher risk of losing homeownership and “falling down the housing ladder” (Dewilde ). Women’s lower chances of repartnering (Wu and Schimmele ) and responsibilities as a single parent may further impede their path to economic recovery.

This view of women bearing the highest burden of divorce and requiring more public and private support than their ex-partners is partly based on solid evidence. Yet, the seemingly clear picture gets clouded when put into a larger context of divorce outcomes. Divorce effects, and gender differences therein, extend into various spheres, including changes in economic status, health and well-being, domestic arrangements, and social relationships. In these domains, several studies have reported that men were more vulnerable to the adverse effects of divorce, including larger health declines and lower subjective well-being after separation (Shor et al. ; Stack and Eshleman ), higher risk of adopting bad health habits (Umberson ), elevated mortality (Berntsen and Kravdal ; Sbarra et al. ), disproportionate declines in satisfaction with family life (Leopold and Kalmijn ), higher dissatisfaction with custodial arrangements (Bauserman ; Sheets and Braver ), and greater feelings of loneliness and social isolation (Dykstra and Fokkema ). Although the evidence is not consistent about all these effects, it suggests that an assessment of gender differences in the consequences of divorce should look at multiple outcomes.

Yet, extant studies of divorce effects on adults have predominantly focused on only one outcome or on a set of outcomes within one domain—most commonly, economic well-being or health. Studies that cut across two or more domains are rare. This gap of research precludes a broader view of gender differences in the multiple consequences of divorce. To obtain a fuller picture, an analyst has to piece together evidence from a large literature that varies in terms of sampling frames, longitudinal scope, methods of analysis, and the societal and historical context from which the data were drawn. As a result of this heterogeneity, the empirical basis for broader conclusions about gender differences in the consequences of divorce remains limited.

To address this limitation, with the present study, I aimed to offer a comprehensive view of gender differences in the consequences of divorce by tracing annual change in multiple measures covering four outcome domains: economic, housing and domestic, health and well-being, and social. Although these four domains are interrelated and partly overlapping, this classification is useful as an organizing scheme for relevant outcomes and related findings.

I analyzed data from 32 waves (1984 until 2015) of the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP), one of the world’s largest and longest-running household panel studies. An important benefit of these data is the large array of subjective and objective outcome measures combined with an extensive window of observation, allowing me to assess short-term and medium-term consequences of divorce as well as gender differences therein. My sample included 18,030 individuals initially observed in a marital union, 1,220 of whom divorced across the observation period (1984–2015). The analysis was based on fixed-effects models for within-person change occurring up to 5 years before and after divorce.

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