Divorce and Public Assistance

Employed mothers who divorce are much less likely to become welfare recipients than unemployed mothers, but a divorce often increases a household’s dependence on government assistance.

Anywhere from 17 to 40 percent of mothers with minor children receive welfare benefits, and 17 to 25 percent of wives who divorce after two to eight years of marriage receive AFDC benefits (Aid to Families with Dependent Children, now called TANF, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families).

Some conservative critics claims welfare benefits decrease the incentives for remarriage, a path out of poverty for men and women alike, but in general divorced mothers receive welfare for three to four years, on average, and begin to work themselves out of poverty.

In Social Democratic countries, because women’s welfare benefits usually increase sharply (and, in some cases, double) following divorce, women’s average net income increases by 32 percent, but divorced women enjoy different degrees of economic well-being internationally and in the United States.

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