The rising incidence of divorce has contributed to an increased proportion of households maintained by women. Historically, widows have been the largest group of female householders, but divorced women now far outnumber widows for both whites and blacks, The rise in the number of female householders is of concern because female householders tend to be poor.
Most poor families are headed by women, and more households headed by women are poor than those headed by any other group The poverty of female householders affects many children In 1991, 46 percent of female-headed families with children under 18 were poor, versus 7 percent of married-couple families with children. In 1992, there were 13 7 million poor children; a poverty rate of 21.1 percent.
The poverty rate for children has remained between 19 and 22 percent since 1980. Divorce can result in a dramatic change in women’s standards of living In 1991, the U.S. Bureau of the Census estimated from SIPP data that household income for a woman and her children fell to 62 8 percent of the pre-separation level in the months immediately following the departure of the father, and, after a year, was still only 68 .5 percent of the pre-separation level if the mother remained unmarried.
The widespread overhauling of divorce law in the 1970s that did away with fault-based divorce proceedings may have contributed to the disastrous economic effects of divorce for many women and children. Divorced women are worse off under the new laws because no-fault, no-consent laws leave women with little bargaining power regarding settlements. Despite the widespread abandonment of maternal presumption in custody decisions, most divorced women still maintain the role of primary caretaker for their children.
In the absence of reliable child support payments, many divorced women must also assume primary financial responsibility for their children. In 1989, only 58 percent of divorced and separated women with minor children were awarded some level of child support. Of those, 51 percent received the full amount awarded, and 25 percent received nothing. Among those divorced fathers who were providing some support to their children, the average annual support amount was $2,995, and this amount varied little with the number of children in the household. When child support is due, but not paid, women have had little success in obtaining compliance In 1991, only 29 percent of non-AFDC cases reported to the Child Support Enforcement Program resulted in collections.