The Economic Status of Elderly Divorced Women

Published: 2003


Over the past 35 years the gap in poverty between divorced and married women increased from 2:1 (in 1967) to 4:1 (in 2001).  Despite high poverty rates, divorced women are no less educated than married women.  Labor market earnings are a particularly important source of income for elderly divorced women; Divorced women’s level of labor force participation is comparable to that of married men; however, retirement of divorced women experiences no spike at ages 62 and 65, as is the case for married men. Divorced women are quite distinct from separated women, with the latter much less educated, lower income, and minority; grouping these two populations together, as is often done, is a mistake. Initial analyses suggest that the reduction in the requirement on length of marriage from 20 to 10 years to receive Social Security divorcee benefits had little or no effect on alleviating divorcee poverty. A large number of questions remain unanswered, but given the speed at which the cohorts with high prevalence of divorce are approaching old age, the time is now to address these questions.

Key Findings