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CEP discussion paper
The Effect of Marital Breakup on the Income Distribution of Women with Children
Elizabeth O. Ananat and Guy Michaels
April 2007
Paper No' CEPDP0787:
Full Paper (pdf)

JEL Classification: J12; J16

Tags: marital breakup; earnings of women; poverty; children

Having a female firstborn child significantly increases the probability that a woman’s first marriage breaks up. Recent work has exploited this exogenous variation to measure the effect of marital breakup on economic outcomes, and has concluded that divorce has little effect on women’s average household income. Employing an Abadie (2003) technique that allows us to look at the impact of marital breakup throughout the income distribution, however, we find that divorce greatly increases the probability that a woman lives in a household with income in the bottom quartile. While women partially offset the loss of spousal earnings with child support, welfare, combining households, and substantially increasing their labor supply, divorce significantly increases the odds that a woman with children is poor.