By guest bloggers Megean Kincaid and Meg Ivey from the Family Life class.
(Part one of two)
The term feminization of poverty was first used in 1978 in order to describe the inequality in poverty rates between men and women. The leading cause of the feminization of poverty in the United States is single motherhood. “The United States has one of the highest percentages of children living in poverty among the industrialized nations, because the majority of them are living in mother-headed households” (DiNitto and McNeece, in Tiamiya and Mitchell). The complications that exacerbate the situation are no-fault divorces, child support laws, and “pink collar” jobs. The no-fault divorce movement has “weakened women’s bargaining position” when it comes to maintaining the standard of living post divorce (Schrag). The amount of labor and capital built up by the women in these relationships is often overlooked in the divorce settlement, and therefore undervalued overall. For instance, a woman may sacrifice time and money in order that her husband may become better educated and establish a lucrative career. This sacrifice leaves the woman unprepared for work and unable to provide for her children post divorce. Following divorce, women experience a 30% drop in the standard of living. At the same time, men see a net gain of 8% (Henderson). Both men and women experience loss to begin with, but men bounce back with a vengeance. The final implication of no-fault divorce is that it most often impoverishes women and children.
Current child support laws work in conjunction with no-fault divorces to add to the plight of single mothers. 90% of divorced children stay with their mothers. In many states, child support laws do not take into consideration the rising costs of education and care for children as they age. Inflation is also commonly ignored. Therefore, a fixed amount of child support received by mothers is no longer adequate as children grow older. Sadly, this is one of the better scenarios for single mothers. “Only half of divorced women who are entitled to child support receive the full amount. One-quarter receive none. Nationally, defaulting fathers owe $4.6 billion in child support” (Henderson). For many women faced with defaulting fathers and insufficient child support payments it would be too costly and time consuming to pursue justice through the court system.
Single mothers have to work more in order to provide for their children than they would if married. These mothers often work part time to be with their kids, or, more likely, in low paying “pink collar” jobs. These jobs denote low-skill, low-wage, female-dominated positions. “Among all low skill jobs women’s wages are less than 60% of the typical blue collar jobs held by men” (Sapiro). “Pink collar” jobs don’t offer many health benefits for the women or their families. Many mothers enter into these jobs because the positions are entry-level and the women have previously been absent from the work force. However, these jobs do not often lead to higher paying jobs with better benefits. In these cases it is difficult for any single mother to support her family without the benefit of federal aid money.
It is our conclusion that the movement to no-fault divorce has done more harm than good for the freedom of women. It places single mothers at the mercy of inefficient child support laws and their ex-spouses. In every case, it is the children of these divorces that suffer the most. In addition to losing valuable time spent with their parents, these children feel the financial effects of divorce. In a “pink collar” job a woman must work more, and spend more time away from her children, to earn the same amount of money as a man in the same situation. The plight of impoverished single mothers would be improved with a change in no-fault divorce laws, encouragement for delinquent fathers to pay child support, and improvements in health benefits for single mothers in “pink collar” jobs.
Henderson, Zorika Petic. “Divorce impoverishes women and children.” Human Ecology,
1993, Vol. 21 Issue 1, p2
Sapiro, V. (1999). Women in American Society: An Introduction to Women’s Studies, 4th ed. London
Schrag, Peter. “Going for Broke” Nation, 1985, 12/7/1985, Vol. 241 Issue 19, p620
Tiamiyu, Mojisola and Shelley Mitchell. Urban Review; Mar2001, Vol. 33 Issue 1, p47