, Volume 52, Issue 2, pp 401–432 | Cite as

Trends in the Economic Consequences of Marital and Cohabitation Dissolution in the United States

  • Laura M. Tach
  • Alicia Eads


Mothers in the United States use a combination of employment, public transfers, and private safety nets to cushion the economic losses of romantic union dissolution, but changes in maternal labor force participation, government transfer programs, and private social networks may have altered the economic impact of union dissolution over time. Using nationally representative panels from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) from 1984 to 2007, we show that the economic consequences of divorce have declined since the 1980s owing to the growth in married women’s earnings and their receipt of child support and income from personal networks. In contrast, the economic consequences of cohabitation dissolution were modest in the 1980s but have worsened over time. Cohabiting mothers’ income losses associated with union dissolution now closely resemble those of divorced mothers. These trends imply that changes in marital stability have not contributed to rising income instability among families with children, but trends in the extent and economic costs of cohabitation have likely contributed to rising income instability for less-advantaged children.


Marriage Cohabitation Divorce Economic coping strategies 



The authors thank Melissa Giangrande and Jessica Powers for superb research assistance, and Lonnie Berger, Marcia Carlson, Rebecca Glauber, Robert Haveman, Daniel Meyer, Rebecca Ryan, Christine Schwartz, Tim Smeeding, and participants at the Institute for Research on Poverty’s Emerging Scholars Conference and the Cornell Inequality Discussion Group for feedback on early drafts of the article. The research was supported by the President’s Council of Cornell Women Affinito-Stewart Grants Program and by Grant No. AE00102 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), which was awarded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of ASPE or SAMHSA.


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Policy Analysis and ManagementCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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