My info came from The National Marriage Project, a bipartisan, nonsectarian initiative at the University of Virginia, as of 2001.
6 Following divorce, the womanís standard of living plummets by seventy-three percent while that of the manís improves by forty-two percent.
This dramatic inequity, one of the most widely publicized statistics from the social sciences, was later found to be based on a faulty calculation. A reanalysis of the data determined that the womanís loss was twenty seven percent while the manís gain was ten percent. Irrespective of the magnitude of the differences, the gender gap is real and seems not to have narrowed much in recent decades.6
The above paragraph was actually refuting the long held statistic that an even greater gap existed in which the woman's standard of living decreased 73% while a man's increased 42%.
Either way, the notion that after a divorce men are left destitute while women are living high on the hog is laughable.
Well, "laughable" may be putting too fine a point on things.
Speaking anecdotally, as an attorney who has not been smart enough to turn down divorce cases, the economic consequences of divorce tend to be pretty disastrous for both spouses and tend to be obscured by these sorts of statistics. For one thing, financial hardships attendant to divorce for both husband and wife, like so many other hardships, tend to be more severe for the poor than for the affluent. Further, the relative economic positions of the spouses will vary over time, and will depend largely on whether they have children and what the ages of the children are at the time of the divorce.
If the couple has young children and the family tends to be more or less "traditional" (i.e., mom is the primary caretaker of the kids, and dad the primary breadwinner), the court will almost always award physical custody of the children to mom. Even where both parents work full time, despite the purported gender-neutrality of our statutes, courts still exhibit a bias in favor of giving the kids to mom. With custody, mom will get the following "subsidies" from dad: (1) child support until the kids reach 21, at "one size fits all" statutory rates which often result in payments that bear little relation to the actual costs of raising the kids (in New York, where I practice, it is roughly 17% of dad's adjusted gross income for 1 kid, 25% for 2 kids, 29% for 3 kids, etc.); (2) health insurance, or at least a share of its cost proportionate to dad's income, plus a similarly proportionate share of the costs of summer camp, day care, unreimbursed medical expenses, and college tuition, room and board; (3) maintenance (what used to be called alimony) which, in the case of a younger spouse, will be "temporary" (i.e., generally 3 - 6 years, designed to support the recipient during a period of professional education or vocational training), and, in the case of an older spouse, will be "permanent" (i.e., until death, retirement or remarriage); and (4) life insurance, in an amount sufficient to cover dad's child support and maintenance obligations should he be fortunate enough to kick the bucket before they have been fully discharged. In addition, if the couple owns a home, sole possession will often go to mom until the children have graduated high school. While mom will generally be responsible for payment of mortgage, taxes, and upkeep on the home during her possession, the practical effect of delaying the home's sale, which is often the couple's most significant asset, will be to deprive dad for many years of use of his share of the equity to purchase living quarters for himself.
The financial consequences are futher complicated by "equitable distribution" -- the division between the spouses of their marital property. Where the property is more or less monetized (e.g., bank accounts, retirement accounts, brokerage accounts, etc.), the division is fairly clean. Where, however, the marital property includes non-monetized assets, such as a business operated by the husband or a professional degree or license obtained by the husband during marriage (remember, we are assuming a "traditional" marriage), the wife will generally receive a distributive award (on top of child support, maintenance, etc.) of a substantial share of the thing's hypothetical market value, as determined by some fool the courts have labeled a valuation expert. The distributive award payments can be extremely onerous and, when added to child support, maintenance, etc., may leave precious little of dad's paycheck for his own food clothing and shelter. Moreover, the distributive award payments aren't reduced if the business or the husband's professional practice hits hard times after the divorce. Finally, if the husband had dreams of one day abandoning his stressful and soul-deadening career in favor, say, of becoming a writer or a ballet dancer or a cowboy or a seller of flower leis at the Homolulu airport, his distributive award obligation will likely prevent him from realizing them, turning him into something of an indentured servant.
With the passage of time, of course, in many cases the breadwinner husband's income will continue to rise and all of these obligations will become less oppressive. In contrast, even with the benefit of skills acquired with the help of temporary maintenance, the income of a wife who was a stay-at-home mom or a part-time worker during marriage may not ever reach that of the husband during marriage. Thus, after some years, it may be true that, on average, a divorced wife's income will have declined by 27% while the husband's will have increased by 10%. One must be careful, however, not to conclude from this that the husband is generally the financial "winner" and the wife the financial "loser" in a divorce, or that the system operates to oppress women. The truth is that divorce, like cancer or the loss of a child, is one of those things that tend to wreck lives.
We will leave the emotional and psychological sequelae for another day.