We review the literature on the economic consequences of marital dissolution for women. Longitudinal studies of the effects of divorce and widowhood indicate that both types of dissolutions have negative and prolonged consequences for women's economic well-being. This is not the case for men, where marital dissolution often leads to an improved economic standard of living. Following an examination of empirical studies and measurement issues in the divorce and widowhood literatures, we describe preexisting and direct sources of women's postdissolution economic insecurity. Women's postdissolution economic hardship is due to multiple interrelated factors, often only superficially coupled with the marital dissolution event. In particular, the division of labor during marriage, lower wages paid to women both during and after marriage, and the lack of adequate postdissolution transfers to women imply that unless changes in women's work roles are mirrored by social policy initiatives and men's assumption of equal responsibility for children (both within and out of marriage), economic prospects for previously married women will remain poor.

Keyword(s): divorcewidowhood

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  • Article Type: Review Article
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