I’ve been brewing a post on this for some time, and now Helen has pipped me to the post! But I have two points to make about the Macca vs Mucca divorce.
The first is that the level of hatred directed at Heather Mills has been breathtaking. We cannot possibly know the facts about either of them, about what their personalities really are, or whether the various allegations flying around are true. For what it’s worth, I feel sorry for her, and suspect she’s the victim of a particularly vicious press. Moreover, I don’t think her claims were particularly outragous. She’s looking after his child, who presumably ought to be privileged to a similar lifestyle that her (rich and famous) brothers and sisters enjoyed. And Heather alleges she turned down career opportunities in favour of concentrating on marriage and home on Paul’s wishes. If that’s true she should be compensated (more of that here). But that’s not really what I want to focus on because the point I was coming round to making is this:
This obsessive focus of the media on high-profile divorce cases (frequently with a tone of disapproval about ‘gold digging women‘) is misleading. The truth is this: women are overwhelmingly made worse off when their marriage breaks down. Men overwhelmingly get better off. Recently published research from the Institute for Social and Economic Research has found that women who split from their husbands between 1998 and 2004 were on average 12% worse off than they had been before in financial terms. Their ex-husbands, gallingly, get 31% richer.
Income levels are at their lowest for separated women in the year immediately following the split, as might be expected, and slowly recover. Still, after 5 years, women’s average income remains 10% lower than it was before. Those women who are able to work or who find another partner do much better, but non-working separated mothers face particular financial hardship.
This is actually a big improvement from the picture just a few short years ago – married women separating in the early ’90s got 30% poorer whilst their husbands got 36% richer. This improvement is not due to any sudden enlightenment on the part of the courts (“Hey! She’s looking after the kids! If anyone has more money to throw around, shouldn’t it be her?”). The relative change for men over the 1990s isn’t big enough to explain this trend – the extra money that women are getting is not coming from them. In fact, the change is attributed to the increase in employment amongst single parent women, in particular the compensatory effect of measures such as the Working Family Tax Credit.
Essentially, then, when marriages break up, the courts fail to enforce equitable settlements, women as single parents are forced into work regardless of whether they think this is best for their family, and the taxpayer subsidises the whole caboodle. Men, one assumes, get themselves a PS2 with their spare cash and wait mournfully for every second weekend. Why aren’t the newspapers reporting on that?
And Mills-McCartney? Well, whatever her faults, it looks to me as though she’s getting poorer …