WASHINGTON—Economist couple Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers asserted that new public policies may be necessary to address the needs of married working women in the future, to reflect the increasing number of married women in the workforce. The two spoke in a series of panel discussions at the New America Foundation in Washington, on June 12. Panelists explored the economics of marriage and new directions in divorce.
“Marriage today is a place where the benefits come from finding somebody who is similar to you and enjoying the joint pursuits in life together, not somebody that is the opposite to you who is going to complement your weaknesses so that you can be more productive together,” said Stevenson.
After Stevenson gave her definition of the institution of marriage at present, Wolfers asked what future trends may be for college-educated women. Women currently enrolled in college outnumber men, pointing to a possible future shortage of college educated, like-minded men to pair with educated women. “Are we going to see a decline in marriage for college graduate women?” Wolfers asked.
Roles within marriage may change in the future, with the increasing number of college-educated women. A recent Pew Center report stated that women are the sole or primary breadwinners in 40 percent of American households with children under age 18. According to the report that analyzed U.S. Census data, the breadwinner women made up two groups, of which 37 percent, or 5.1 million, were married mothers who earn more than their husbands, and 63 percent or 8.6 million were single mothers.
The report links the increased number of households supported financially by women to the increased number of women in the workforce. Women comprise nearly half of the U.S. labor force, 47 percent, and the employment rate for married mothers has increased from 37 percent in 1968 to 65 percent in 2011.
Stevenson also addressed the economic concerns of bread-winning women who have to balance their financial responsibilities in a way that they arguably did not need to in the past. In the past it was more commonplace for women to take time out from their careers to raise children. Stevenson said that the future decrease in earnings potential from taking time out could be greater now for women who make the decision to step out of the job market.
Research suggests that economics is often a factor in the dissolution of marriages, and higher income couples divorce less, according to studies. Experts suggest that the correlation between the divorce rates and income is in part due to more educated, higher earning individuals marrying later.
“Age of marriage is a huge predictor of who is more likely to get a divorce,” said Naomi Cahn, George Washington University law professor.
According to one writer, educated professionals who get divorced may gain mental and emotional clarity that supports their future career endeavors, and offsets the financial losses from divorce. Wendy Paris is the author of “Splitopia,” a book that challenges the negative assumptions about divorce.
Whether she is right or wrong, legal fees are an indisputable reality of divorce.
“I’ve seen people pay hundreds of thousands of dollars, just to get divorced. The average cost of an uncontested divorce is between two and five thousand dollars,” said Alex Pare, who practices family law in Gaithersburg, Md.
The cost of divorce and questions about the current role of the institution of marriage may contribute to the decline of marriage rates.
Pew Research reported that 51 percent of adults in America were married in 2011 compared to 72 percent in 1960. Marriage is being replaced with cohabitation, single person households and other living arrangements, according to the report.