The U.S. Census Bureau reported that children of divorce are more likely to live in poverty than children with married parents. Here's
the most recent Census Bureau report (Census Bureau
Apparently the Centers for Disease Control is cutting back on the data it collects on families and children, so the Census Bureau is trying to pick up the slack. It conducts what it calls the American Community Survey that consists of questions to about 2 million households. That was done in 2009 and is our most recent data on the subject.
The questions relate to many aspects of marriage, divorce and "widowhood," which interestingly enough includes men. (So gentlemen, as you read, be aware that if your wife should die, the Census Bureau will consider you a widow. Why it should do that, I have no idea.)
It's no surprise that the report on the survey contains a lot of pretty bland stuff. For example, the age at which Americans marry has gone up over the past 40 years (an average of 5.9 years for both men and women), women still marry men who are two years older on average than they are.
And much of what's reported we already know; the ACS simply reinforces it with new data. So, women who divorce are far more likely to live in poverty and receive public assistance than are men who divorce. They're also more likely to do so than women in the general population.
Women who divorced in the past 12 months were more likely to receive public assistance than recently divorced men (23 percent and 15 percent, respectively). Looking at household income, women who divorced in the past 12 months reported less income than recently divorced men. For example, 27 percent of women who divorced in the past 12 months had
less than $25,000 in household income compared with 17 percent of recently divorced men. Similarly, women who divorced in the past 12 months were more likely than recently divorced men to be in poverty (22 percent compared with 11 percent, respectively).
So men are over 50% less likely than women to receive welfare following divorce and are half as likely to live in poverty.
Since the children in the survey were over 2.5 times more likely to live with their mother after divorce than with their father, it should come as no surprise that they too are more likely than other children to live in poverty.
Overall, 1,100,401 children, or 1.5 percent of children in the United States in 2009 lived in the home of a parent who divorced in the last year... Children living with a parent who divorced last year were more likely to be in a household below the poverty level (28 percent) compared with other children (19 percent). Children living with a parent who divorced last year were also more likely to be living in a rented home (53 percent) compared with other children (36 percent), and were more likely to be living in households headed by their mothers (73 percent) compared with other children (23 percent). The greater likelihood of children to live with mothers following divorce could explain why a greater proportion of such households were in poverty.
Of course as a general rule, women in the U.S. are less likely than men to work for pay at all and far more likely to work part-time if they do work. That's because they're more likely to spend their time caring for children than are men. The result, as the ACS data suggest is that, when they get divorced, they're more likely than men or their undivorced counterparts to suffer serious financial consequences.
When divorce happens, women are more likely to be caught with no job or with only a part-time one. So getting back into the workplace in a job and at a level that pays a living wage is harder for them than for men. They're paying the price of taking on the primary caregiver role.
All of that suggests a couple of fairly obvious responses. First, as I've said many times before, if women would turn over some of the childcare to men, they'd free themselves up to earn more, they wouldn't lose contact with the workplace or the job market, so divorce wouldn't be such a financial blow to them. I encourage women to bargain with their husbands/partners for more time at work and men to bargain for more childcare time.
Failing that, it must be said that the pro-mother bias of family courts continues to put children in poverty. Year in and year out, mothers receive 84% of the sole and primary custody in this country. That means, as the Census Bureau reports, that children of divorce are more likely to live in poverty than are children of married parents. Children who live with mothers are also more likely to live in poverty than are children who live with fathers.
That should raise an obvious question for family courts - "why are you making custody decisions that result in children living in poverty?" There's no evidence that poverty is good for children and much to the contrary, but family courts still intone the mantra of the best interests of the child, while sending them off to live in seriously straitened circumstances. Why not give primary custody to dads who are better equipped to support the children they bring into the world?
Better still, why not award equal custody? That would ameliorate the relative absence of maternal earnings and keep both parents active in the child's life?
I've kvetched a lot about judges who penalize fathers for having their audacity to work hard to support their families. When it comes to divorce and custody, those fathers are shoved to the side in favor of mothers who've done more bathing and diapering but who can't earn enough to keep their kids out of poverty. This makes sense?
It's far past time for fathers' unique contributions to be honored by courts in their custody decisions. That's partly for the good of fathers, but mostly for the good of children.
As I said, we've known this for a long time; the Census Bureau report just reinforces what we already know. Now it's time for courts to pay attention and act.