Is divorce equivalent to financial devastation for women?
If you pay attention to almost anything in the media, the answer is a resounding YES!
For example, a 1999 study by Columbia University and Indiana University professors found that in the wake of a divorce, income drops 26% in households headed by women compared to 15% for households headed by men. (source and more information here) This kind of information is used by financial advisors to encourage use of their services (one example and other good information financial here).
A more recent (2011) study by University of Connecticut economics professor Kenneth Couch found that “marriage has such a significant economic benefit for women that even divorcees who develop their own careers can’t match it.”
Both these studies and the related media reports they spawned, fuel the fears of divorced moms and reinforce the notion of financial instability and even devastation. The experiences of divorcing women are likely to contribute to fears of financial instability and devastation as well.
Many moms who decided to stay home to raise their children or who have scaled back their work during their children’s younger years are in for a rude financial awakening after divorce. Even working moms face financial challenges after divorce. Covering the costs of two households requires more money than maintaining just one house (duh!) even if the divorce settlement is smooth and equitable and the divorcing mom receives spousal maintenance (alimony) and child support. Most divorced women find it hard to meet expenses in these circumstances and are forced to make lifestyle changes (or run out of money before the month runs out).
So, is this bad news for divorced moms?
It doesn’t have to be!
Here’s a different perspective — 5 ways to think about your financial life after divorce that offer a healthier view and greater peace of mind.
- Consider the big picture: Divorce is about more than financial security. Most of us don’t marry for money, and we don’t stay married for money either. In many cases, divorce is a good choice for women (and their children) regardless of the financial consequences. While there may be an adjustment period, many women find that a simpler lifestyle is a reasonable tradeoff for better health, a more peaceful environment, and increased opportunities for happiness and growth.
- Don’t buy into the conventional framework: these studies focused on how much money divorced women had, not their happiness or overall well-being. There is an implicit assumption in the studies, or at least in the reporting on the studies, that more money is better, and that less money means more distress. Headlines using terms like “financial distress” and “divorce is costly for women” reinforce this notion and fuel the fears. But each woman’s circumstances differ. Consider yours from your personal framework of values and priorities, not those of a study or media interpretation of its results.
- Do you want to be rich, or do you want to be happy? Obviously, most of us would say we want both. But if it comes down to staying in an unhappy or unfulfilling (or worse) marriage or making do with less, you may have chosen happiness. If that’s the case, you can remember your choice when your financial circumstances raise worries or cause temporary distress. If the divorce was not your choice, you can still look at the benefits you’ve gained as a result, especially if you find after a time that you’re happier, more peaceful, freer, etc.
- Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good. When Ms. Brett—a single mother—turned 50, she wrote a column on the 50 lessons life had taught her that became one of the most popular columns ever published in the paper she writes for. She later expanded the lessons (find them here) into the book “God Never Blinks.” Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good is her #1 life lesson. You can read the full text of this lesson here in a sample from the book.
It may not be fair that some divorced women suffer more financial instability than some married women, and let’s hope it doesn’t always stay this way. But in the meantime, we can look at the progress that has been made and the opportunities available to women that didn’t exist in previous eras. We can also look at what’s good and put our focus on what we DO have, rather than focusing on life’s injustices.
- Don’t believe everything you read: statistics and studies don’t tell YOUR story. Study findings and statistics can be presented in a number of ways, and they don’t always tell the whole truth. And they almost never tell YOUR story. They also rarely present their findings in a positive light because negativity gets our attention and sells magazines, newspapers, books, and grant funding. So when you read something like “The unemployment rate is 7.5%, an increase over last year and at levels unseen since the Great Depression,” it sounds horrible and scary. And for those in the 7.5% (Note: this is a made up example), it is scary, at least temporarily.
But the other way to look at this is that 92.5% of people are employed, which is a pretty high percentage. The same is true for statistics and studies about divorced women and finances. If income drops by 26% for women (and 15% for men), this may not be good news, but it may not be disastrous either. And it may be temporary. There is still income. And if working divorced moms will never have the same kind of retirement income that they would have if they had stayed married, what does that really mean? It’s just an average. In any specific case, the husband might have lost his job or been disabled. The company might have gone out of business.
There are so many scenarios that could change the averages that it’s impossible to say what would have happened or if you would have been better off if you had not divorced. Instead, look at your own story, your own circumstances. The more you buy into the studies and statistics, the better the chance you’ll start living them out. But there are always alternative paths you can take to financial well-being and peace of mind. Look for stories of women who have found well-being and happiness, and use those examples to encourage you when you’re distressed or down.
Divorce doesn’t have to mean distress and financial instability forever, though there are certainly temporary adjustments for all of us. For more ways to finding financial well-being after divorce, check out How To Manage Your Finances And Live Life In The Secure Lane, another divorcedmoms.com article. You can also download a free copy of 7 Practices for Financial Well-being after Divorce here for even more ideas.
Financial instability may come and go, but divorce doesn’t mean permanent devastation. The truth is that well-being is possible – and attainable with a shift in perspective and the work to support it.